Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data

Blog: Space technology improves breast cancer diagnosis timescales

By Sara Huntingdon, SSGP Manager, UK Space Agency

Sara Huntingdon, SSGP Manager at the UK Space Agency, looks at revolutionary plans to improve breast cancer screening.

A new project, supported by the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP), is set to revolutionise the way in which mobile breast screening units operate.

For the past 25 years, despite all the advances in technology, mobile breast screening vans in the UK operated without reliable access to secure and reliable modern communications.

As well as a sense of isolation for the clinical staff working in these units, their inability to reliably connect back to the base hospital had a real impact on the patient experience and the time taken from being seen to when test results were received.

The lack of real time reach-back capability lead to an inflexible appointments system, a large quantity of paper-based records being annotated by hand, and hard drives containing patient data and digital imagery being transported around the country on a weekly basis by clinical staff, taxi or courier.

The New Concept Always Connected Medical Screening Vehicle project, delivered by DEOS Consultancy Ltd, has addressed these issues by providing a new commercially ready service which enables transmission of digital imagery, live access to the appointment system and patients’ medical records – via satellite – enabling a fully paperless and secure service.

The project team has worked initially with two local Trusts providing NHS Breast Screening services, and is now looking to engage wider to extend this approach nationally and to other medical screening programmes.

Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications Strategy at the UK Space Agency, said: “Space for Smarter Government Programme is a priority for the whole of the Space Agency.  This year it is, for the first time, a KPI. The Growth Directorate works together to deliver a number of projects working across Government, and with industry, to deliver results for the end users – in this case women being screened for breast cancer.  We are really proud that the work we do can directly improve the lives of women at a very vulnerable time.”

Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data is the main objective of SSGP. This programme has been running since 2014 and is led by the UK Space Agency, an executive agency of BIS, and is delivered in collaboration with the Satellite Applications Catapult.

The Always Connected Vehicle project was just one of the capability demonstrator projects showcased at an event in London on 7 June, attended by over 80 representatives from across 18 different public sector organisations.

Did you know?

  • 2.11 million women were screened for breast cancer in 2014-2015. 
  • A total of 18,051 cancers were detected by the screening programme in 2014-2015.
  • Of these 18,051 women, 40.5% had invasive but small cancers which are less than 15mm in diameter and too small to be detected by self-examination.