Vow to extend BreastCheck initiative threatened

A Government commitment to extend free breast screening to women aged 65 to 69 in 2014 looks threatened by a shortage of radiographers and the ban on staff recruitment.

Ann O’Doherty, lead clinical director with BreastCheck, said about 20 additional radiographers would be required to staff the extended service.

As it is, BreastCheck is struggling to fill approximately 16 vacant radiographer posts. Dr O’Doherty said these posts had been sanctioned and about eight radiographers were due to take up positions shortly. “It was quite a big deal to be allowed recruit in the current environment,” she said.

The national breast screening service has outlined the resources required to extend the service in 2014 to the Department of Health but, as yet, has heard nothing back.

Dr O’Doherty said it would require “new money and new resources” and that it would have to be specifically funded by the Government. The department said last night that “it aims to extend the upper age range from 65-69 in 2014 in keeping with the Programme for Government”.

A commitment is also contained in Future Health — A Strategic Framework for Reform of the Health Service 2012-2015, published in November.

In its 2011-2012 programme report, published yesterday, BreastCheck said a resource deficit was affecting BreastCheck’s commitment to invite a woman for her first screening within two years of becoming known to the programme. Women become known to BreastCheck when they turn 50 because a data protection exemption allows the screening service to garner information from a number of medical and social welfare sources.

The delay in issuing this initial invitation to engage with the service was, Dr O’Doherty said, confined to a small number of women, aged 50-52.

However, it meant just 61.4% of this group was receiving an invite in the two-year timeframe, instead of the target 90%. The report warns that an increase in the [two year] interval “may impact effectiveness and dilute the impact of screening as a cancer control measure”.

Dr O’Doherty said the situation was improving all the time. The service was just 2% off the 90% target of re-inviting women already screened within a 27-month period. The number of women offered hospital admission for treatment within three weeks of diagnosis of breast cancer was 87.2%, just below the target of 90%.

In the period covered by this report, BreastCheck surpassed the invitation for screening target uptake of 70%, and showed a sustained increase in screening numbers and related activity, with more than 4,500 more women attending in 2011, compared with 2010. In total, 125,329 women availed of their free mammogram and 832 breast cancers were detected.

In Ireland, more than 2,700 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and the cumulative risk increases with age, from one in 221 before the age of 40, to one in 14 before age 65.

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