An NHS project using social media to improve health by boosting digital inclusion has led to a 13% increase in first-time attendances for breast screening in Stoke-on-Trent over four years.

The local initiative saw information about screening posted on Facebook community groups, which empowered and enabled women to make appointments by reducing their anxiety around breast examinations. It also allowed them to communicate quickly and easily with health practitioners to ask questions about the screening process.

This project is part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, which is commissioned by NHS England and 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 the country in partnership with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health.

Nationally, attendances for breast screening are in decline and most recent figures, from 2016-17, show the proportion of eligible women taking up breast screening in England fell to its lowest rate in 10 years.

In the last financial year, 7,938 women in Stoke-on-Trent either didn’t attend their breast screening appointment or opted out of going - meaning around 65 cases of potential breast cancer were not detected.

Through this project, the North Midlands Breast Screening Service promoted their Facebook page on local community groups which their target group - women aged over 50 - regularly visited.

The screening team posted information such as patients explaining how the screening process works and how it has affected them, and videos showing the rooms where it takes place. Posts were designed to encourage women to share them and so spread the message about the benefits and importance of screening.

The service’s Facebook page also answered questions in the group and by direct messaging, enabling women to book appointments more easily.

Data on attendances for first-time appointments at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service shows they increased by an average of 12.9% between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018.

Gina Newman, Health Improvement Practitioner at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service, said: “This is a fantastic idea and the community aspect of the group is so powerful that we now have 1,138 followers.

“We have seen an increase in the number of ladies who have booked and attended their appointments, who might not have done otherwise. It’s great to see the members supporting one another through their own journeys and sharing the page further with their family and friends.”