THE roll-out of Breast- Check, the national breast screening programme, is under threat in counties Clare, Leitrim and Donegal because of a shortage of radiographers and a ban on recruitment.
Yesterday, Tony O’Brien, chief executive of the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS), said the fallout from the moratorium meant their biennial check-ups of women around the country could also be compromised.
The service needs 67 radiographers for full operating capacity, and is currently down to 52. There are 25 vacancies across the service and Mr O’Brien is seeking an urgent derogation from the recruitment ban.
The screening service is due to complete its national roll-out by the end of the year, but cancer care groups were advised on Monday that this will not happen if the derogation is not granted.
“Obviously this has the potential to affect women everywhere,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If I lose a radiographer in the morning, I have to seek a derogation in order to replace her. We have lost staff already across every category and Breast- Check is the kind of service that needs every piece of the jigsaw to operate effectively.”
Additional recruitment difficulties have been created by the new pension levy, Mr O’Brien said.
“Because of a shortage of radiographers here, much of our recruitment is overseas.
“Since the pension levy was introduced, two of our overseas recruitments have given notice of their intention to leave the Dublin screening service in the next three months,” Mr O’Brien said.
Losing any of their staff was “a kind of Russian roulette”, he said, because loss of clerical and administration staff meant there was no one to send out appointments to women for a mammogram or to send follow-up appointments for check-ups.
“The reality is women waiting for follow-up screening will suffer as well,” Mr O’Brien said.
There are currently five empty posts in Dublin and four in Cork. The service began in Kerry last week for the first time and first- time screening is also under way in parts of Cork, Waterford and Limerick.
Spokeswoman for Cooperating for Cancer Care Northwest, Noelle Duddy, said they were concerned to learn that BreastCheck plans to begin operating in Donegal were temporarily on hold.
“It remains very unfair that Donegal women are being subjected to further unnecessary anxiety regarding their breast health. This situation needs to be nipped in the bud so as to halt any further unnecessary distress,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said they were committed to working with the Health Service Executive to ensure the screening service was provided.
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