National Health Screening Inquiry: Terms of Reference

17 December 2013

MPs have launched an inquiry into the scientific merits of national health screening programmes and whether calls for health screening to be extended to cover conditions such as prostate cancer, lung cancer and post-natal depression are based on solid science.

Chair of the Committee Andrew Miller MP stated:

"The NHS spends a significant amount of money on health screening and it is important that this is underpinned by good scientific evidence.

"Thousands of women are screened for breast cancer every year and lives are saved as a result but there may also be women who undergo unnecessary treatment and surgery as a result of screening.  Calls to extend screening to other conditions should ensure that there is good evidence that the screening would be effective.

"We will be examining the evidence base behind the decisions on which illnesses to screen for and will be asking whether we are currently getting these decisions right in the UK."

Health screening—in which people are tested for illnesses that they do not show any symptoms of having—is currently carried out for a variety of conditions. The NHS Cancer Screening Programme aims to detect early, asymptomatic cases of breast, bowel and cervical cancer while NHS Health Check, introduced in 2009, screens adults for a variety of common problems including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Other screening tests currently offered by the NHS aim to detect early signs of sight loss in diabetics, a variety of genetic and infectious diseases in unborn babies and newborns and a dangerous weakening of the body’s largest blood vessel in men aged over 65 (“abdominal aortic aneurysm”).

There have recently been calls for health screening to be expanded to other conditions and questions have been raised about the effectiveness of existing programmes. In October 2012, an independent review of UK breast cancer screening found that for every 10,000 women invited for screening, 43 deaths would be prevented, but 129 women would be needlessly treated for cancers that would not otherwise have affected them.

In light of these matters, the Committee has decided to conduct an inquiry examining the evidence supporting national health screening.

Terms of Reference

The Committee is seeking written submissions on the following matters:

  • What evidence are the national health screening programmes based on, and how regularly is the evidence base reviewed?
  • Could the evidence base and sources of scientific advice to Government on health screening be improved? If so, how? 
  • How effectively are the potential risks and benefits of health screening communicated to and understood by the public?
  • How does health screening provided in the UK through the NHS compare with that offered by other countries?

Submitting written evidence

The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act. We may also ask you to comment on the process of submitting evidence via the web portal so that we can look to make improvements. If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information or do not wish your details to be used for the purpose of collecting feedback, please email the Committee  providing your full name, address, and if relevant your organisation.

The Committee invites written submissions on these issues by midday on Wednesday 26 February 2014.

Each submission should:

  1. no more than 3,000 words in length 
  2. be in Word format with as little use of logos as possible
  3.  have numbered paragraphs 
  4. include a declaration of interests.

If you need to send a paper copy please send it to:

The Clerk
Science and Technology Committee
House of Commons
14 Tothill Street

Please note that:

  • Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.
  • Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised. 
  • Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence. 
  • Select Committees are unable to investigate individual cases.

Further information

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