The PHA contracts with the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) to deliver a regional, peer-led service to help tackle inequalities in cancer screening. The service aims to raise awareness and promote informed choice in breast, cervical and bowel cancer screening. It is targeted at people living in deprived areas and those identified in Section 75 of the NI Act 1998.
Working with individuals, communities and the voluntary sector to reduce the impact of health inequalities is at the core of the PHA’s values and was noted in the NI Draft Cancer Strategy (2021-31):
Health inequalities are associated with lower symptom awareness, later presentation and lower uptake of services including screening. Inequality across NI means there are potentially avoidable variations in outcomes, patient experience and survival.
The WRDA’s programme of work includes community outreach, recruitment and training of peer facilitators and delivery of cancer screening awareness sessions in community venues. The WRDA tailor awareness session content to the needs of the attendees and deliver bespoke sessions for those with additional support needs. They work closely with community groups, charities and carers, and can arrange translation and child care services to ensure sessions are accessible.
The arrival of the pandemic brought a swift halt to this model of service delivery. There followed a hiatus for brainstorming, community engagement and training for the WRDA team and facilitators, from which an innovative programme of online delivery emerged. The new programme comprised Zoom group sessions a pre-recorded webinar and a series of animated videos providing information about cancer screening and promoting Be Cancer Aware messages.
During this time, the WRDA continued to develop their relationships with key groups, targeting BAME, LGBTQ+ and those with sensory impairments in particular. Engagement with the British Deaf Association resulted in co-production of adapted online awareness sessions, filmed with a British and Irish Sign Language translator, along with subtitles, to make these more accessible for deaf or hearing impaired service users.
As covid restrictions relaxed, the WRDA noted a huge demand from community groups for delivery of in-person awareness sessions, amid fears around undiagnosed cancer cases following covid-related disruption to services. In response, the WRDA began once again to offer in-person delivery of cancer screening awareness sessions, (with due regard for social distancing and other public health guidelines). Online delivery of sessions has also continued, with demand for each modality varying as the pandemic unfolds.
In responding to the pandemic, this service has benefitted from having to develop and trial new ways to engage with those most in need in order to promote informed choice in cancer screening. This hybrid model of service delivery is likely to continue into the future.
This post was written by Dr Catherine Bane, Project Manager, PHA