Recommendations for UK National Screening Committee

8 July 2015

Recommendations from the latest triennial review of the National Screening Committee (NSC) have been published. 

The NSC advises the UK government and National Health Service (NHS) on all aspects of screening policy, and supports implementation of screening programmes. It assesses the evidence for programmes against internationally recognised criteria, using research evidence, economic evaluation and pilot programmes.

The new recommendations encompass various aspects of the NSC’s function including its membership and terms of reference, as well as the criteria used to assess screening programmes. The review group recommend development of a Code of Practice giving information on the ‘status, role, responsibility and procedures of the UK NSC’ and NSC Committee members, the roles of other organisations, including the Department of Health and Public Health England (PHE), and how the Committee develops its recommendations. Discussion with the Department of Health about potential inclusion of the NSC in their list of Scientific Advisory Committees is also suggested.

The PHG Foundation contributed to the review process by producing a report specifically looking at the appraisal of genetic and genomic screening programmes. This compared the NSC’s process for screening programme appraisal with published recommendations and international systems for assessing genetic and genomic screening programmes. The review recognised that ‘advances in genetic screening and the development of new technologies bring additional complexities and considerations to screening reviews. This particularly includes ethical, legal and social issues around such things as consent and autonomy, discrimination and stigmatisation, issues around reproductive choice, privacy and confidentiality, data ownership, storage and sharing. Although not confined to genetic screening, the Review Group recommended that the Committee should include, or have access to, specialist expertise in these areas.

Commenting on the review and recommendations, PHG Foundation Director Dr Hilary Burton said: "I was pleased to be involved in the review, and to bring a genomics perspective to it. Genomics is increasingly valuable for some forms of screening. However, on the whole the NSC decision-making processes are more orientated around (and suitable for) common diseases that have a large population impact. Through our review we were able to highlight some of the complexity that occurs when using the same processes and criteria to make judgements on genetic screening – we are pleased that the Review group responded to our suggestions, in recommendations on the way the NSC should operate and through small changes to the agreed Screening Criteria."