Case study 4 Minutes
Letter being posted in postbox

By increasing screening figures, mail is helping to cut bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK.

With 1 in 16 men and 1 in 20 women developing the disease in their lifetime, early detection of the disease is vital to saving lives. The National Bowel Screening programme was set up in 2006 to tell people over 60 about bowel screening and encourage them to get checked. The programme is vital to achieving the target of reducing bowel cancer rates.

The North East Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Hub is one of five hubs in England. Using specialist software, the programme started by selecting anyone aged 60 to 74 years old registered with a GP and inviting them to be screened. This was the first intervention in an extensive, ongoing mailing campaign.

If individuals have not been contacted in the past or, if it has been two years since they were last screened, they are automatically sent a letter inviting them to take part in the screening. In the North East, approximately 3,000 invitation letters to take part in the programme are mailed out every day, including a sample kit.

All completed test kits are sent back to the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Hub where they’re tested immediately. Within 48 hours of returning the test, the participant is sent a letter by post informing them of their results. If the test revealed a concern, this triggered a letter or email to their GP and the patients being invited by their local hospital for further tests. If the patient gets the all-clear they’re automatically invited to participate again in two years’ time. Those who don’t return the test are sent a reminder letter four weeks later. This underlines that mail can be highly personalised, private and secure.

The Programme Hub has a duty to contact those over 60, and must drive the number of those being screened to hit its target of reducing bowel cancer. It recognised that this target group trusts mail, especially as the invite has the endorsement of their GP – either through a logo or reference in the letter. Sending a formal letter with an NHS logo guaranteed the letter is trusted, opened, read and acted upon.

Mailing out the kit has helped significantly with participation. Bowel cancer is something some people would rather ignore, but the physical presence of the kit in the home is hard to avoid.

Royal Mail works closely with the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Hub to deliver all elements of the programme, and provides on-going proactive advice to ensure they always get the best tariff. They also ensure the programme hub has access to the most up-to-date information about changes to envelopes, Mailmark or other opportunities that could reduce costs or increase effectiveness.

The minimum uptake target in the programme nationally is 52% – through the use of mail North East Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Hub consistently hits or exceeds this target.

“Everyone has a letterbox, but not everyone has email – with mail we can be confident that our invitation will reach everyone in their own home.” Philip Kelly, Manager

Source: Philip Kelly, Manager, North East Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Hub

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