Breast Screening
Cervical Screening
Bowel Screening
Diabetic Retina Screening

National Screening Service update

Screening and capacity

All screening programmes are operational and, like many areas of healthcare, their capacity has been affected by COVID-19. It is hoped that as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, screening will return to full capacity. We anticipate this may be in the autumn of 2021 but we will monitor and adapt as COVID-19 restrictions allow. We are continuing to investigate ways to increase capacity to address the longer screening times that are a factor of care in a COVID-19 environment. We continue to remind people that screening is for well people who do not have symptoms. Anyone who is worried about symptoms at any time is advised not to wait for screening but to contact their GP immediately, for appropriate follow-up care.

BreastCheck restarted inviting women for routine screening on 08 March 2021. Up to 19 March we invited 6,000 women for screening and screened 4,000 women. 

The focus of the resumption of routine screening is to achieve a maximum invitation rate that is compatible with a safe follow-up assessment and treatment capacity within the health service. It is important to note that the programme’s capacity is greatly reduced by social distancing and COVID-19 infection control measures. We are asking those awaiting appointment invitations to please be patient as it is likely that it will take an additional year to complete the current round. 

  • New resources for women with disabilities attending breast screening 

New easy-to-read resources have been created for BreastCheck participants. The resources have been created in collaboration with project partners ACE communications, and Kerry Parents and Friends. The leaflets are aimed at ensuring there is adequate preparation and informed consent for women with disabilities attending breast screening.

The resources cover all aspects of the women’s journey through the breast screening process, from information about breast screening, having a mammogram, getting results, going for further tests, checking my breasts.  There are print materials and videos with and without subtitles for use.  

We have also created a resource for carers that gives an overview of the new material, and their uses in the community. Each woman will use the resources differently, depending on her communication style.  

You may wish to familiarise yourself with these resources and signpost them to people seeking further information in this area.  All resources are downloadable from our BreastCheck website here

For further information please contact easy-read project manager Lynn Swinburne or Aoife Collins (BreastCheck access officer), Public Health Department, NSS.

CervicalCheck continues to support GP practices and community clinics making individual decisions about the level of screening that is safe for them to provide, as they adhere to Government guidelines and Public Health advice about the spread of COVID-19, and participate in the vaccination programme.

We screened over 40,000 women in primary care in January and February 2021, against a target of 53,000, due to unprecedented levels of COVID-19 in the community. Of this number, over 28,000 women were screened in February 2021, against a target of 26,000, as levels of the virus in the community began to drop. 

We are running a communications campaign on digital, social and national media (radio and out-of-home advertising) to inform women about the new HPV screening test and to encourage all those are due their screening test in 2020 and 2021 to book their appointment when due. We continue to ask women to keep in touch with their GP and to take the earliest appointment offered to them. We are also letting women know that they do not need to book for screening with their own GP, and can book with any sample-taker in their area. A list of registered sampletakers is available on our website here.

In February 2021, over 700 primary care doctors and nurses attended two CervicalCheck lunchtime webinars, and the revised Colposcopy QA Standards were launched at the CervicalCheck Annual Colposcopy Meeting with Nursing and Medical Teams. 

Construction of the National Cervical Screening Laboratory (NCSL) began on-site at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital in early January 2021 and is proceeding as planned. Construction of the new laboratory is due to be completed in the second quarter of 2022. The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital will be the principal provider of cervical screening laboratory services for the National Screening Service. This will enable a better balance between public and private laboratory capacity provision and enable NSS to reduce the dependency on third party providers to meet the needs of the national cervical screening programme. 

All returned FIT kits continue to be analysed. The programme is issuing invitations relative to available capacity within host hospitals.  

BowelScreen continues to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of the programme, in support of the National Endoscopy Programme’s guidance.

Diabetic RetinaScreen (DRS)
DRS is continuing to invite participants for screening, with regional variations in screening capacity at this time. We are working with the host hospitals as they make local decisions on their treatment capacity. All urgent referrals are being seen in the treatment centres, and routine patients as capacity allows.

In February, DRS introduced a two-yearly screening pathway for screening participants who are deemed eligible. Until recently, programme participants were invited for diabetic retinal screening once a year. This has changed to a two-yearly appointment for people who fulfil certain criteria. If a person has received a result of ‘no retinopathy’ from their previous two screenings, their next DRS screening invitation will be two years from the time of their last screen.


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