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Routine screening programmes – including breast and cervical cancer – to be ‘paused’ temporarily

The move is to allow staff and resources to be reallocated to tackling Covid-19.

CT Scanner hospital

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that a number of routine screening programmes have been paused to allow staff and resources to be reallocated to tackling Covid-19.

Programmes affected are routine cervical cancer screening, routine breast cancer screening, bowel cancer screening, abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening and surveillance monitoring, and routine diabetic eye screening and surveillance monitoring.

Minister Swann said: “Covid-19 is the most serious public health emergency that Northern Ireland has ever experienced. Given the unprecedented challenge we face, and the fact that in the next short while we face into what will be the most critical period of our fight against Covid-19, I am now having to take decisions that I would never have countenanced previously.

“Pausing these programmes was not an easy decision. I know the importance of screening, but this decision will allow reallocation of precious resources to our frontline staff as they undertake the massive task ahead of them. In addition it must be remembered that many people who attend screening programmes are in a higher-risk category for coronavirus and it is essential that we minimise risk to those people through maintaining social distancing at this time.”

The move follows the announcement of plans to suspend non-urgent outpatient appointments and non-urgent surgical admissions.

Screening will continue to be offered for people who require:

higher risk breast screening,
diabetic eye screening for pregnant women,
newborn bloodspot screening,
newborn hearing screening, (this programme will be focused on completing screening prior to discharge from maternity units only)
antenatal infections screening and
Smear tests for non-routine cervical screening (e.g. repeat tests requested by colposcopy or the laboratory)

Minister Swann added: “This is a temporary suspension and I will ensure that the programmes resume at the earliest possible opportunity. In the meantime, I would urge anyone who may have symptoms of some of the conditions that we screen for to contact their GP.

“All best efforts will be made to contact patients who have received a timed appointment to let them know that the clinic will have to be postponed. I thank you for your patience and understanding at this difficult time.”

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