In the wake of a government announcement that up to 270 women could have prematurely died due to inadequacies in the breast screening process, Healthwatch Newcastle has released their research findings about screening in the City.
The government has stated that a failure in a computer algorithm and a new IT system was to blame for more than 450,000 women not being invited for their final breast screening between 2009 and the start of 2018.
Breast screening is available to women aged 50 to 70. All eligible women who are registered with a GP automatically receive an invitation for screening by post within three years of their 50th birthday, and will be invited every three years until they are 70. Women can also request breast screening after 70 and be screened every three years.
Screening is carried out at special clinics or mobile breast screening units. The breast is placed on an X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate so an X- ray can be taken to spot any tissue abnormalities.
Previous research had shown that breast screening uptake was low in certain areas of Newcastle, with GP practices serving seldom heard or deprived neighbourhoods consistently struggling to attain the national standard (70% for breast screening).
Areas with a very low uptake included Benwell, Scotswood, Elswick, Westgate, Ouseburn, Byker and Walker. Having identified these pockets of low uptake in Newcastle, Healthwatch Newcastle saw an opportunity to use their community engagement expertise to speak to people in these communities.
Rachel Wilkins, Project Manager with Healthwatch Newcastle said:
“Our ‘Attention on Prevention’ research was all about finding out why people don’t take part in screening programmes, what barriers they face and what can be done to encourage more people to take up the screening invitation thereby saving more lives.”
A number of ways of engaging with the communities were employed including focus groups, one to one interviews and surveys. The findings were interesting as Rachel explains:
“Most women we spoke to attended their breast screening appointments because they believed them to be important or because they personally have a history of cancer. Those who do go regularly will continue to go when invited as it is important to them.
Reasons why people didn’t attend ranged from forgetting the appointment to difficulties in child care or affording public transport costs to get to the screening.
“In terms of encouraging women to go to their screening sessions, women generally felt that more information about breast screening was needed. In particular we found that women wanted printed material to include the symptoms to look out for, statistics showing how often something is found ― to allay fears, details of patient transport and what support is available if someone does receive an abnormal result or a cancer diagnosis.”
For more information contact Healthwatch Newcastle on 0191 3385721