Restoration and Recovery of Paused Screening Programmes

30/07/2020

The following population screening programmes in Northern Ireland were temporarily paused from the second week in March 2020:

•             Routine breast screening.

•             Bowel cancer screening.

•             Cervical screening.

This was in response to COVID-19 so that Health and Social Care (HSC) staff and resources could be redeployed and to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus for the public and HSC staff.

In its Strategic Framework for Rebuilding HSC Services, the Department of Health has now called for the phased restoration of these paused programmes.  This has begun and the current position is as follows:

•          Routine breast screening restarted from 20 July 2020.

•          Bowel cancer screening backlogs in follow up tests are being cleared and  screening invites will recommence from mid-August 2020.

•          Cervical screening invitations recommenced from end June 2020.

The four month pause to date has resulted in a backlog of people awaiting screening.  In addition the screening programmes may not be able to screen the same number of people as they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.  This is due to the need for social distancing and appropriate infection control measures.  It will therefore take many months to get population screening programmes up and running at normal levels.

While the above programmes were paused due to Covid-19, screening continued to be offered to people who required:

•          Higher risk breast screening - all eligible women continued, and are continuing, to be screened at the higher risk screening unit in Antrim Area Hospital.  Prior to Covid-19 women who required mammography only were able to have their screening at their local breast screening unit.  This option was paused as part of the response to Covid-19 and has not yet been reinstated.

Further information on the restoration of the programmes is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk