Pupils from across Bolton School Girls’ Division enjoyed an enlightening lunchtime presentation from Dr Helen Lewis-Parmar on the what, why and how of national medical screening. As Head of Screening Quality Assurance (North), Dr Lewis-Parmar gave an insightful explanation of why we have a population screening programme, how we decide what to screen for and how we screen people.
Girls learnt how screening is different from other forms of healthcare, in that practitioners are ‘looking not treating’, and that it includes healthy people. Pupils learnt about the 11 national population screening programmes, including bowel cancer, breast screening, cervical screening, diabetic eye-screening and various new-born screenings. The pathway of invitation, testing and outcome was also discussed, and consideration given to the pros and cons of the exercise. Advantages include saving lives by early identification of diseases, preventing disease and promoting better health; downsides include a slight risk from certain tests and that, by passing a test, this does not guarantee protection from a disease and may give false reassurance. There is an ongoing need to explain the benefits – such as 1300 lives per annum being saved from breast screening – and also the risks.
The audience of potential future medics discovered how screening rarely benefits all sections of the population, so there is a need to target it at those that will help. This is decided by the National Screening Committee (NSC).
Dr Lewis-Parmar wrapped up the presentation with a brief resume of her own career to date, including studying medicine at the University of Manchester, then moving into the field of clinical paediatrics before undertaking public health training where she picked up a masters in public health and became a PH Consultant. She then became Screening and Immunisation Lead and ultimately Head of Quality Assurance (North), and now works in various national advisory groups.
The event was part of a Café Scientifique series of events, aimed at bringing enrichment learning to pupils in the field of Science.