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Pandemic and capacity ‘slow pace’ of BowelScreen extension plans 

By Catherine Reilly - 11th Feb 2022

There is no implementation date as yet for extending the BowelScreen colorectal cancer screening programme to 59-year-olds, the HSE has stated. 

“The pace of implementation has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and our need to match screening invites to our treatment capacity within the health service.” 

In an interview with the Medical Independent last June, the programme’s interim Clinical Director Prof Pádraic MacMathuna said BowelScreen was planning to extend screening to 59-year-olds in 2022. He described colonoscopy capacity as the core issue that limited extension of the programme. 

The National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 stated that the HSE should ensure “appropriate” capacity to expand colorectal cancer screening to “all” 55-to-74-year-olds by the end of 2021. 

First offered in October 2012, BowelScreen was established to provide screening initially to all eligible men and women aged 60-to-69 and ultimately to the full 55-to-74 age group. No expansion in the identified age range has been implemented to date. 

“Invitations are still affected by Covid-19, despite the lifting of restrictions in wider society. However, they are issued to ensure we can maximise the capacity available,” said the spokesperson. 

“Some units have been impacted by the recent December and January wave of the Covid-19 virus. We anticipate that all units will return to normal operational capacity by the end of Q1, dependent on the situation with Covid-19 and continued easing of restrictions.” 

There are no current plans to change the screening interval (FIT invite cycle). “The impact of Covid-19 means invitations in our current screening round (where we normally invite people for screening once every two years) are delayed by up to a year.” 

This means if a person was due to be issued with a screening test kit in 2020, the programme aimed to issue their kit in 2021. If they were due to be invited to be screened in 2021, the programme aims to invite them in 2022. 

“We are prioritising inviting people who have been waiting for screening longest, and new entrants to the screening programme.” 

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