1 June 2021

Mia Rosenblatt, Associate Director of Evidence, Policy and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“While the percentage of women attending breast screening has been maintained in the latest three year period (2017/18 – 2019/20), the drop in uptake over the last two years (between 2018/19 and 2019/20 and which includes March 2020) is likely due to disruption to breast cancer services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re also deeply concerned that uptake from women in more deprived areas continues to be significantly lower.

“More women in Scotland received breast screening in 2019/20 than in previous years, but Breast Cancer Now’s estimate that around 93,000 fewer women in Scotland had breast screening in 2020 due to disruption caused by the pandemic1 is alarming, as the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the more likely treatment is to be successful, helping prevent women dying from the disease.

“NHS staff have worked tirelessly to restart and continue to deliver breast screening, but the backlog of women waiting for screening is placing mounting pressure on an imaging and diagnostic workforce that was already under-resourced prior to the pandemic. There’s no time to waste for the Scottish Government to invest in a robust, long-term plan for the workforce that sees screening services recover swiftly and be sustainable into the future. Equally, it is vital that action is taken to improve uptake of breast screening by women in more deprived areas and we hope the funding in the Scottish Government’s Cancer Recovery Plan to tackle health inequalities in NHS screening programmes, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19, will help achieve this. Only then will all women in Scotland have the best chance of an early breast cancer diagnosis.

“While screening comes with some risks to be aware of, we encourage women to attend breast screening appointments during the pandemic, and to contact their GP about any new or unusual breast changes. Safety measures are in place at appointments to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Our expert nurses are on hand to provide information and support via our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.”

ENDS

Notes to Editor

1 Calculated using data on the average number of women screened each month, based on performance data for 2018/19, the length of time for which services were paused (in 2020 breast screening services were paused in Scotland for approximately four months), and the fact that services have been operating at around 60% capacity since they restarted due to social distancing and infection prevention measures.