DoH rapped over chlamydia screening 'failure'

The DoH has failed in its efforts to control chlamydia through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP), according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee.

The report recommends the DoH find a cost effective way to screen more young patients for chlamydia
The report recommends the DoH find a cost effective way to screen more young patients for chlamydia

Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee and Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, described the programme as a ‘classic example of what can happen when the responsibility for delivering a national initiative is pushed down to local level'.

Five years into the voluntary testing programme, 5% of 15 to 24-year-olds had been screened against a target of 15%.  Then in 2008, the DoH required PCTs to test 17% of their 15-24 year old population.

Mr Leigh said: ‘As the PCTs scrambled to catch up, an already fragmented and inefficient programme became even more inefficient and wasteful.'

The report adds that the DoH's lack of urgency in pressing PCTs to reach a high volume of testing means that the programme has not yet reached the level of activity where models predict that the prevalence of chlamydia will be significantly reduced. As a result, more young people than necessary are still being infected and potential savings to the NHS in treating the consequences of chlamydia infection have been lost.

It recommends that the DoH should identify the most cost-effective local delivery strategies, establish regional or national commissioning arrangements, increase testing numbers and measure the programme's impact on the prevalence of chlamydia. It estimates that by improving efficiency, economies estimated at £40m per year could be made by 2010/11.

Dr Pippa Oakeshott, a GP in Lambeth, south London, added that general practices are increasingly screening under 25s for chlamydia but it would help to have screening included in QoF.

‘If the young person completes the yellow section of the request form, it takes only three minutes of health professional time. If each practice tested just one sexually active young person aged under 25 each day, we would meet our targets.'

Launched by the DoH in 2003, and overseen by the Health Protection Agency, the programme has spent an estimated £100m on screening high risk, sexually active under-25 year olds.

The Public Accounts Committee report is additional to the National Audit office report issued last November. This report also concluded that the NCSP had not demonstrated value for money.

A DoH spokesman said: ‘The programme offers easy testing and treatment to help stop the infection in its tracks. By investing in these services, we can detect it earlier and make a real and measurable difference to the lives of young people.

‘An ambitious new programme on this scale takes time to perfect and improve.'

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