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BreastCheck staff ‘under increased pressure’

There has been no rise in staff departures in BreastCheck since controversies emerged in 2018 regarding CervicalCheck, but staff are operating under “increased pressure”, a HSE spokesperson has told the Medical Independent (MI).

This is partly due to an increased fear of litigation and difficulties in recruiting radiologists, according to the spokesperson.

Currently, there are 20 vacancies for radiographers and five for radiologists, with shortages in these professions nationally.

In April, Clinical Director of BreastCheck Prof Ann O’Doherty wrote to Minister for Health Simon Harris advising that the “events of the last year have seen an unprecedented focus on cancer screening services and have been very difficult for all the staff who work in the various programmes”.

Consultant colleagues had asked Prof O’Doherty to request a meeting “so we may have an opportunity to brief you personally on the Irish breast screening programme to ensure that, in as much as possible, Irish women receive accurate information on a programme that reduces mortality from breast cancer”.

A Department spokesperson told MI a meeting “is being scheduled”.

In her email, Prof O’Doherty said there was a “significant increase” in the number of women seeking reviews of previous mammograms and “a number of initiated legal actions against BreastCheck for perceived failures to identify breast cancer”.

She added the interval cancer rate in BreastCheck was “well within guidelines and in fact lower than other European programmes”.

Since 2000, BreastCheck had provided more than 1.7 million mammograms and detected over 11,500 cancers, more than half of which were diagnosed at an early stage, stated the HSE’s spokesperson.

Uptake has not notably changed in the past year and the vast majority of mammogram results are provided within the target of three weeks.

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