Breast screening is a powerful tool in diagnosing breast cancer early, but too many people face barriers to taking up their screening invite. Jn this post, we explore inequalities in screening, and Breast Cancer Now’s plans to push for a more inclusive and accessible programme.
What’s the issue?
The percentage of people undergoing routine breast screening has dropped to record lows over recent years. But breast screening uptake is especially low in specific areas and communities who miss out on the chance to be diagnosed early after screening.
People meeting the below criteria all face challenges in accessing breast screening:
- People in certain ethnic minority backgrounds
- People with disabilities
- People experiencing homelessness
- Members of the LGBT+ community
Variation in uptake was an issue before the pandemic, but COVID’s disruption of screening has highlighted, and in some cases worsened, inequalities.
Why does this matter?
We’ve previously outlined many of the reasons why people struggle to get screened, and this has long-term consequences for those affected.
Many of the groups who are less likely to attend screening are at greater risk of being diagnosed late with lower survival rates. These inequalities are not only caused by low screening attendance, but they are one of the challenges that must be solved to give people a fair chance for an early diagnosis.
What are you doing about this?
Listening to the groups affected by screening barriers is crucial to finding solutions that work. So, this year we held a panel with organisations representing underserved communities, to discuss breast screening inequalities.
The session highlighted the shared experiences and difficulties that different communities have when they try to access breast screening.
Working together with these expert organisations, we’ve now published a consensus statement on health inequalities within breast screening. It sets out our shared view of how we can make breast cancer screening can more inclusive and accessible.
The statement was developed with and endorsed by:
- Black Women Rising
- Caribbean & African Health Network
- Disability Rights UK
- Friends, Families and Travellers
- Pathway UK
- Queen's Nursing Institute
- Race Equality Foundation
- South Asian Health Foundation
What does the statement do?
The consensus statement sets out 12 recommendations that would remove barriers to entry for screening and improve access across all underserved groups.
We wanted to take a different approach to the existing guidance on screening inequalities, which looks at each of these communities separately and doesn’t reflect the fact that people often don’t fit into neat categories. Our proposed solutions also focus on changing the system to meet people’s needs, rather than relying on healthcare workers or people who are eligible for screening to overcome or work around the barriers they face.
What are you planning to do next?
We’ll continue to work with our partners to push for the proposed changes in this statement, to eliminate inequalities in breast screening access.
We want to see the national breast screening teams at NHS England (NHSE) come together, review the solutions we’ve set out, and commit to implementing them in the breast screening programme.
We’ll be working to develop resources that breast screening units (and other parts of the local health service) can use to improve accessibility. We want to support NHS staff who are already under immense pressure and are often dealing with
As part of our efforts to see our screening transformation blueprint put into practice, we’re also pushing for modernisation in areas like data collection, digital technology, and workforce investment, which are all needed to ensure an equitable screening programme is sustainable in the long term.
How can I help?
Last week, we launched the next stage of our No Time to Waste campaign, calling for a national publicity campaign to improve awareness about the importance of breast screening and encourage everyone who is eligible to attend their appointment.
A national breast screening awareness campaign could not only improve overall public knowledge and uptake of screening but also help reduce health inequalities, as information and knowledge barriers can be more common in underserved groups.
A national breast screening awareness campaign should target health messages and information towards groups with lower screening uptake, to help tackle inequalities and increase breast cancer survival in these groups.