Cancer Screening Programme.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 15

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Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Tá lúcháir orm go bhfuil mo chomhghleacaí an tAire Stáit, Pat the Cope Ó Gallachóir, anseo chun freagra a thabhairt ar an ábhar seo. I am delighted my colleague the Minister of State at the Department of Health [1149]and Children, Pat the Cope Gallagher, is here to answer the question as he is well aware of the acute needs of people in Donegal. I am delighted he is attached to the Department and that he can assist Donegal people with their concerns in the area of health, particularly the issue of cancer services in the north west.

The issue I wish to raise today concerns BreastCheck, the free breast screening service that can find or detect early breast cancer. The service invites women aged between 50 and 64 for a free breast X-ray every two years. The appointment takes approximately 30 minutes. It is not a painful experience for most women and the majority of them are found to be in perfect health. BreastCheck is currently available in the north east, the east, the midlands and the south east of the country and the Government plans to roll the service out nationally.

The reason I have raised the issue today is that I want to ascertain when BreastCheck will be rolled out into the north west, particularly to Donegal and Letterkenny General Hospital. Currently, BreastCheck screening is available in Cork, Galway and Roscommon with plans to roll the service out this month in Blanchardstown in Dublin, in Cabinteely, Portlaoise, Finglas, Ballymun and Ballygall, with the service rolling out in Kildare, Foxrock, Swords and County Louth later this year.

Breast screening is vital for women in the age group 50 to 64. Many women in Donegal have to travel to Galway in order to obtain the service. It is unacceptable that this will continue. I hope the Department and the HSE roll out the availability of breast screening and the BreastCheck service to Letterkenny General Hospital as quickly as possible. I would like the Minister of State to provide an update as to when this will happen and explain the associated staffing arrangements.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher): Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to address the issue and set out the current position on the roll out of the national breast screening programme.

I confirm that BreastCheck screening commenced in the western region in May and the southern region in October. In December, the Minister for Health and Children officially opened two new BreastCheck screening units which will provide free breast screening services to women in the western and southern regions of the country. The new purpose built static unit for the western region is located alongside the campus of the University College Hospital Galway. Screening commenced from the unit in early December and to date the service has been extended to women based in Counties Galway [1150]and Roscommon. The western unit will also provide services to women in counties Donegal, Clare, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo and Tipperary North Riding. The total screening population in this area is in excess of 52,000 women. Accordingly, the first round of screening will take between 21-27 months to complete. The BreastCheck programme delivers screening to women in their local community through the use of static and mobile screening units. The 4% of women who need follow-on treatment receive it at one of the four BreastCheck static units nationally, located in the western, southern and eastern regions.

Women in County Donegal will be screened from a BreastCheck mobile digital screening unit. Mobile units have been commissioned and will be deployed sequentially over the course of the screening round to bring the service to women in counties remote from the western screening unit, including Donegal. Mobile units will remain in the county until all women known to the programme have been offered a mammogram. This time period varies from county to county, based on the numbers of women to be screened and uptake levels. The roll out to individual counties, including County Donegal will be dictated by BreastCheck’s management and operational considerations.

There is one mobile unit in the region currently. Other units will be commissioned and deployed within six months. There is no issue with regard to funding as far as the purchase of the units is concerned or ensuring a service is provided in the region. When the other units are available screening throughout the whole region will be expedited, including Donegal.

Some €26.7 million capital funding was provided to BreastCheck for the construction of the two new clinical units, eight additional mobile units and the provision of state of the art digital equipment. A total of €15 million additional funding has been allocated to the national cancer screening service to cater for national roll-out of the programme. The full complement of 111 staff for roll-out has been approved and recruitment is under way. Staffing already appointed includes clinical directors, consultant radiologists, consultant surgeons, consultant histopathologists, consultant anaesthetists, medical scientists, breast care nurses and radiographers. Screening is currently available in 17 counties in the eastern, north eastern, midland and parts of the south eastern, western and southern regions. Screening is offered free of charge to all women in the 50-64 age group.

BreastCheck screened over 64,000 women in 2007, the highest number of women screened by the programme to date. The rate of overall acceptance of invitation to screening, at approximately 78% of eligible women, is in excess of the programme target of 70%. The target for timely [1151]admission to hospital was exceeded for the first time since the programme began, with 94.4% of women diagnosed with breast cancer admitted for treatment within three weeks of diagnosis. The OECD ranked BreastCheck fifth in the world for the percentage of women screened in its 2007 Health at a Glance survey, ahead of long-established screening programmes in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France and Australia.

I confirm to the House that BreastCheck is committed to providing a screening service to all eligible women at the earliest possible date. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant efforts of staff at BreastCheck to deliver on the commitments to the west and the south. The expansion involves existing professional and management staff at BreastCheck who have shown considerable leadership in supporting this roll-out.

Since my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, I have focused on the health promotion aspect of my brief. We want to ensure where a women has been screened and diagnosed with breast cancer, she will begin treatment within three weeks. As well as my national responsibilities, I am also a Donegal man, representing the Donegal South-West constituency. Although Donegal is on the periphery of the western region, I will do my utmost to ensure that when further BreastCheck units are available, Donegal will be considered for an early roll-out.

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