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Breast screening service hit by staff shortages

A TARGET of offering all eligible woman a free X-ray to check for breast cancer every two years was not met in 2010, as the BreastCheck service was hit by a shortage of staff.

The number of women who were offered hospital admission for treatment within three weeks of diagnosis was also below target.

The aim is to have 90pc of women admitted to hospital in this timeframe, but this was only met in 73.8pc of cases.

Majella Byrne, acting director of the National Cancer Screening Service, said: "Providing timely admission has proved challenging at times.

"BreastCheck is working closely with its host hospitals to develop a service response to address this issue."

She said BreastCheck itself faced a difficult year for screening. "Significant obstacles in the delivery of screening were encountered, with staff shortages due to the recruitment moratorium having the biggest impact," she added.

BreastCheck's annual report said women should be re-invited for the X-rays within 27 months of their previous screening.

However, this was only met for 88.9pc of women during the year as it coped with non-replacement of some staff and a shortage of radiographers.

More than 46,400 women in the south and the west were screened for the first time. A total of 120,730 women aged 50-84 received the X-ray, or mammogram, and 5,404 of these were recalled for assessment.

There were 814 cancers detected, but nearly one-third of women did not accept the invitation to screening.

"Among those who have previously not attended their screening appointment, the acceptance rate is low," said Ms Byrne.

The lowest take-up rate was in the Dublin and the north east region, where it was as low as 39.7pc, followed by the mid-Leinster region where it was 44.1pc. It was highest in the south at 64.8pc.

Dr Ann O'Doherty, lead clinical director, said that more than 95pc of women who had a cancer detected were diagnosed prior to any surgery, usually by core biopsy at the assessment clinic.

"This high rate means that most women know their diagnosis prior to any surgical intervention and can plan their surgical treatment in advance. This has been a persistently positive feature of the programme since its inception."

Since BreastCheck started screening in February 2000 to end of November 2011, it has performed 826,210 mammograms on 368,851 women and detected 5,071 breast cancers.

Irish Independent