30 March: National Screening Programmes

The Scottish Government has announced that due to the rapidly changing situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19), there is to be a temporary pause a number of screening programmes. These are:

  • Breast Screening (mammograms)
  • Cervical Screening (smear tests)
  • Bowel Screening (home test kits)
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening (ultrasound of abdomen)
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (Eye) Screening (images taken of the eye).

Pregnancy and Newborn Screening Programmes, including tests offered during pregnancy and just after birth, will continue where logistically practical.

This means no additional patients will be invited for screening until further notice. Results for those who have recently been screened or who have completed and returned home test kits will continue to be processed.

The suspension is temporary and will be formally reviewed after 12 weeks, or earlier if indicated by the evidence.

Pausing these screening programmes allows staff to be re-allocated to support other essential services, including COVID-19 laboratory testing and covering for colleagues who are unwell or self-isolating.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said:

“This has been a difficult decision to take, but it is important to be aware that these screening programmes are focused on a well population, who are not known to have the conditions they are screened for.

“I want members of the public to be assured we will restart screening programmes as soon as it is safe to do so following clinical advice. When this happens invitations will be re-issued and appointments will be rearranged.

“In the meantime, it is absolutely vital for patients in between screening appointments or awaiting a rescheduled appointment to be aware of any symptoms or signs of the conditions screened for. Anyone having these symptoms should contact their GP practice.”

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood added:

“While there are risks to individuals through delayed diagnosis of conditions that these screening programmes would have picked up, these risks need to be weighed up in the context of the pressures on the NHS in Scotland posed by Covid-19 and balanced against other difficult decisions we will need to make.

“The programmes will be potentially fragile due to staff absences and there are clear risks to patients in being asked to attend for screening. The redeployment of staff to work in other areas is also valuable as part of our national effort to tackle the effects of COVID-19.”

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