Routine breast screening rates ‘falling consistently’
Three out of ten Scottish women aged 50 to 70 are not responding to invitations for routine breast screening appointments, and four NHS Scotland health boards have failed to meet the minimum acceptable uptake standards, new figures reveal.
On Tuesday the NHS’ Information Services Division (ISD) released an update of its breast screening statistics to 31 March 2018, the first release in more than two years, due to the implementation of a new digital mammography Scottish Breast Screening System.
It found 514,093 women had attended a routine breast screen appointment between 2015/16 and 2017/18, which “equates to around seven in ten women (71.2 per cent) taking up the invitation for screening.”
This meant that overall NHS Scotland had only just met the minimal acceptable uptake standard of 70 per cent, with four boards failing to meet that standard: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde at 65.8 per cent, NHS Lanarkshire at 68 per cent, NHS Lothian at 69.2 per cent and NHS Fife at 69.7 per cent.
ISD found the uptake rate had been “falling consistently” since 2008/09 when it was 74.9 per cent, and women from deprived areas were 20 per cent less likely to attend breast screenings.
The results attracted criticism from across the political spectrum, with Scottish Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton calling on the Scottish Government to “reverse this worrying trend” and encourage more women to get to the doctor and take the tests.
“We know that early diagnosis of breast cancer can make all the difference to successful treatment, so it’s extremely bad news to see uptake on a prolonged downward slide,” he said.
“The health secretary must ensure that the recent updates to the screening programme are effective in boosting attendance and addressing the stubborn health inequalities which are persisting.”
Scottish Conservatives shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said “there cannot be any excuse for health boards not to meet this important screening target.
“The SNP government must ensure that all women have access to early breast cancer screening, regardless of where they live,” he said.
“We have seen repeated incidents of health boards getting into difficulties in a number of areas while the SNP has sat back and watched. The SNP must not wait until more women’s lives are at risk, they must take steps to work with NHS boards and ensure screening programmes are working effectively now.”
While Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said it was “so disappointing to see that the uptake of breast screening is going backwards under the SNP”, pointing out that “the poorest women are far less likely to attend these appointments”.
“Scotland needs to reverse this trend to save lives, and that should be a priority for the Health Secretary,” she said.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was “welcome that over half a million women participated in breast screening and uptake rates”, which “continued to exceed” the minimum standards of 70 per cent.
“To ensure we keep pace with increasing population and changes in technology and lifestyles, a new review of breast screening will look at everything from invitation processes, technology and future requirements to further increase uptake of screening,” the spokesperson said.