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HSE research on ‘Exploring and understanding perceptions of screening services in Ireland’ published

By Aoibheann Ni Shuilleabhain
NSS Campaigns Manager
March 2022

In 2021 we worked on a large research project to help us understand how people in Ireland feel about screening. We asked people what they think about the screening services we offer, and looked at what drives - and what stops – people from coming for screening.

We are committed to including the voice of our patients in our work, in order to inform and reform the way we deliver our services. This research project was another opportunity to listen to our audiences. With the insights we have gained from this research we are continuing to work towards delivering a truly person-centred service.

Core Research was commissioned to conduct the research, which included three elements.

The first stage was interviews with healthcare professionals who deliver screening services, in order to understand their experiences with people attending screening.

This helped shape some of the questions for the next stage of the research – a national omnibus survey conducted with 2,000 adults aged 18 and older. We aimed to reach robust sample audiences of people who are eligible for each of the four screening programmes.

The survey covered a number of areas. It provided us with people’s motivators and barriers - the things that encourage them to come for screening, and the things that prevent them from attending. It also told us what further information people needed to understand screening.

Qualitative focus groups were the third stage of the research. In the focus groups, we talked to people about some of the survey topics in more detail, to learn about their experiences. 

The research reported on the awareness, knowledge, trust and understanding the public has of Ireland’s national screening programmes. It showed high awareness of the four screening programmes among people who are eligible for screening, as well as high levels of intention to participate in screening.

Overall, people feel positive about screening programmes. They say the screening programmes offer a good service and that they understand the importance of attending health checks.

However, there is some confusion around what screening does, whether it can diagnose an illness or not, and why we say that it’s for healthy people who don’t have symptoms.

People are motivated to participate in screening because it gives them peace of mind. They like to receive an invitation letter as it reminds them to take up the screening offer. Many see screening as a normal part of their healthcare routine.

Fear stops people from attending screening (acts as a barrier) – but for some people it also makes them attend (acts as a motivator). As a ‘motivator’, the fear of developing cancer is what encourages some people to keep up their screenings.  As a barrier, the fear relates to finding something wrong, the screening process itself or any follow-up tests.

The research gave us clear direction on what information people would like more of; this includes information on symptoms and how to reduce your risk of developing disease. GPs and other healthcare professionals were who people trusted most to give them information about screening.

Next steps

The research helps us to understand how people feel about coming for screening. We are now creating an action plan from our research.

Our actions are built around the aims of continuing to build trust with the public by communicating with them in an open and honest way.

  • We are aiming to make sure that people have all the information they need to make informed choices about screening
  • We are increasing awareness that disease can develop between screenings (interval cancer) and that not all abnormalities will be picked up by screening (limitations of screening)
  • We are aiming to reduce fear and normalise screening as a normal part of people’s healthcare routine 
  • We are empowering self-care by providing information on symptoms and how to reduce your personal risk of developing disease.
  • We are continuing to engage with GPs and other healthcare professionals to encourage screening attendance and provide good information to people. 

The insights we have gained from the research will continue to shape and inform how we communicate with the people we care for in screening.

NSS Attitudes Research


 

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