There is now a 12 month delay in woman aged 50 and over securing an appointment with the cancer screening service, BreastCheck.
A listener to Midwest News discovered the significant delay, when she sought information about a Breast Check appointment she was due this year and contacted the Mayo office of the service to ask for details.
She was told that appointments are running 12 months behind, and the listener, Majella, was taken aback by the delay and contacted Castlebar county councillor, Michael Kilcoyne in an effort to raise awareness and concern about the potential impact of the delay on women’s health.
Majella spoke to Midwest News about her concerns..
In response to Majella, Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne sought further clarification from BreastCheck on the reason for the significant backlog in the system…
Now Midwest News also sought an update on the situation from the HSE and we were referred to the National Screening Office and received this response:
BreastCheck was paused for several months in 2020 due to government and public health guidelines aimed at reducing the impact of COVID-19. During this time, we provided support to the symptomatic breast cancer service, assessing and treating women of all ages who were at high risk of breast cancer and whose hospital appointments has been delayed due to COVID-19. This meant that urgent patients who had symptoms were seen quicker, with the aim of improving the outcome of any diagnosis.
Between January and March 2021 the programme was paused again in order to protect participants and staff by complying with social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since March 2021, routine breast screening is operating nationwide.
The pause in screening, along with COVID-19 infection control measures which affect our capacity to screen, mean that healthy women are waiting longer for their screening appointments.
In keeping with other breast screening programmes internationally we don’t keep waiting lists but have restarted women on their screening journey since recommencing screening in October 2020.
The impact of COVID-19 means appointments in our current screening round (where we normally invite women for screening once every two years) are delayed by up to a year. This means that if a woman was due to be screened in 2020, we aimed to invite her in 2021; if she was due to be screened in 2021, we will now aim to invite her in 2022. We are prioritising women who are due screening longest and women who are new to screening.
During this time, Ireland will be more in line with England, which screens women every three years. However, we aim to return to screening women every two years as soon as possible. This is dependent on the situation with COVID-19 and restrictions.
The NSS was keen to communicate this delay to women as quickly and effectively as possible. We ran a large paid-for advertising and social media campaign, featuring this message, from September to November 2021. This period included Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Advertisements highlighting the delay featured in the RTÉ Guide and national newspapers, while content and interviews were carried online and on television. We continually updated our stakeholders and partner organisations on the status of routine screening for well women, and created new printed materials which we issued to women attending our services.
Our large-scale public attitudes surveys tell us that the HSE website is one of the most trusted sources of information for our participants. It is the primary source for information about screening. We have continued to update our website on the status of routine screening for well women throughout the pandemic. The current message can be viewed here .
We continue to emphasise to our participants that BreastCheck is a screening service for well women within the population age range (50-69 years) and is not for women with symptoms. If a person has any concerns or symptoms concerning their breasts, they should not attend screening and should instead contact their GP who will give them the appropriate advice.
BreastCheck, the HSE National Breast Screening Programme, offers population-based breast screening to eligible women on an area-by-area basis every two years.
There are four regional centres responsible for the delivery of BreastCheck throughout the country. However, not all eligible women wish, or are able, to travel to one of these units. An important principle for the BreastCheck programme is to offer screening services locally to women in counties and locations convenient to where they live. To achieve this, each of the four screening units operates in tandem with mobile units. The majority of women participating in BreastCheck have their mammogram in one of these mobile units.
Breast screening was paused between March and end of October 2020 and again in the third wave of COVID-19, in order to protect participants and staff by complying with social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During this time, BreastCheck provided support to the symptomatic breast cancer service, assessing and treating women who were at high risk of breast cancer and whose hospital appointments has been delayed due to COVID-19.
Symptoms of breast cancer can include:
- a lump in either breast
- discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast