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New social media techniques pioneered in Stoke-on-Trent boost cancer screening rates

Hundreds of practice nurses across the country have been taught how social media can improve health, following a successful trial in Stoke-on-Trent.

An initial pilot saw a Facebook page created to promote breast screening,provide information and reduce anxiety about breast examinations.

It saw a 12.9% increase in the take up of screening services and moved from 58th in the country for uptake to 11th, according to a NHS report.

The same techniques are now being harnessed elsewhere in the country to encourage patients to go for other cancer screening tests.

Around 350 General Practice nurses and other practice staff have so far been trained in adopting technology to become Digital Health Champions, including learning how social media can help promote practice services.

Health chiefs say the project continues to develop, with the latest innovation a link-up with Lancaster University to develop an AI chatbot which would assist staff in answering queries sent via Messenger.

The learning from the Stoke-on-Trent pathfinder is now being shared through digital clinical champions training run on behalf of the Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership digital workstream, as well as through a partnership with Redmoor Health - a national company who provide training and support to the health and care workforce to enable them to use digital technology and social media on the front line.

Bay Medical Group in Morecambe is one of the practices which has benefitted – leading to one of their Facebook posts about cervical screening reaching over a million people.

IT and communications officer Cath McLennan said the advice gave her the skills to post on the practice’s page with confidence: “It was absolutely amazing – now I aim for each of our posts to reach at least 1,000 people to get information to our patients.

"We’ve also seen a positive impact as more women have attended for screening. I really enjoy supporting health and promoting the practice through social media.”

The Widening Digital Participation (WDP) Programme aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

Twenty digital inclusion pathfinders are being run across England to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health, aiming to develop programmes which can be rolled out more widely.

The success of social media campaigns in raising awareness of screening – including the one in Stoke-on-Trent - has also been highlighted in a new Government report, which recommended that there should be further pilot projects.

Nicola Gill, Director of the WDP Programme, said: “NHS Digital is incredibly proud to have been able to support this innovative model that is now being adopted and used by NHS organisations across the country.

“Going to where people go every day, in this case a Facebook community group, allows us to connect and engage with people in a way that’s familiar and convenient for them.

"Pioneering models of health prevention and management like this are making a real difference in improving health outcomes for excluded communities.”

Richard Earley, UK Public Policy Manager at Facebook, said: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community, and we are thrilled that more practices around the country are building on the excellent work of Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership by using Facebook to drive awareness of their services in the communities they support.”

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