History of the UK NSC
The UK National Screening Committee was founded in 1996 with Sir Kenneth Calman (Chief Medical for England 1991-1998) as its first chairman. Dr Henrietta Campbell (Chief Medical for Northern Ireland) took over in 1998 until her retirement in January 2006, followed by Dr Harry Burns (Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Government) until 2013. Dr David Walker, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, is the current chair.
At its inception, the joint programme directors were Dr Muir Gray (Director, Research and Development, NHS Executive, Anglia and Oxford Region) and Dr Pat Troop (Director of Public Health, NHS Executive, Anglia and Oxford). Dr Gray remained in the role until 2007, when Dr Anne Mackie became the current Director of Programmes.
From the outset, the concept of screening doing more good than harm and the importance of quality at every step of the screening journey were at the heart of the work the UK NSC did. As Sir Kenneth Calman said in his foreword to the first annual report (in 1998):
Quality is dependent on a range of influences and needs to be addressed in a number of ways. We need to be sure that the new technologies for screening are effective; that they will not cause more harm than good; that the health needs of people determine the necessity to screen; that false hope is not raised by screening for conditions where an effective cure or treatment is unavailable, and that people's experience informs the continued improvement of screening services.
Early identification of a disease is important to the patient. As new technologies are discovered so people's interest is raised in the possibilities for new programmes. However, the promise of new screening technologies must be looked at carefully if the major undertaking and investment of a new programme is to meet all our expectations. It is therefore vital that before proceeding there is careful development and discussion with the service, the professions that would provide the screening service and the potential users of the service and consideration of whether this is the best use of resources.
One of the first tasks of the UK NSC was to develop a framework for screening. This included the definition and classification of population screening programmes and also the ethical and social issues involved. The 'Handbook of Population Screening Programmes' was published, which set the ground rules for the work of the committee and the expectations placed upon future screening programmes.
Since then, the UK NSC has developed policies on screening for dozens of further conditions, has overseen the successful introduction of a number of national screening programmes in England and has raised the profile of screening within the NHS and with the general public.