Press Release

Breastcheck – the National Breast Screening Programme and the shortage of Radiographers

BreastCheck, the National Breast Screening Programme, commenced in February, 2000. Phase One of the Programme covers the Eastern Regional Health Authority area and the North Eastern and Midland Health Boards and is currently available to all women living in the Phase One areas aged between 50 and 64 with calls for screening being done on a random basis by BreastCheck.

Breast Screening services are available to all women nation-wide on referral by their General Practitioners.

Based on the 1996 Census, it is estimated that there are approximately 140,000 eligible women living within the Phase One area of the Programme. Up to the 30th June, 2001, BreastCheck had invited 43,283 women to attend for screening.

The successful development of the Programme is dependent on the availability of highly skilled radiographers being available for screening. Because of a current general shortage of suitably skilled radiographers, BreastCheck has taken a number of initiatives to address this issue, including running an international advertising campaign, offering an attractive employment package to suitably qualified radiographers and developing a joint initiative with the School of Diagnostic Imaging at the Faculty of Medicine, UCD to set up a Post Graduate Diploma in Mammographic Imaging. While the shortage of Radiographers is currently impacting on the Programmes ability to screen the targeted number of women per annum, BreastCheck still aims to provide screening in the Wicklow area within the current scheduled time frame for Phase One.

It is the intention of my Department that Phase 2 of the Programme, which will involve the extension of BreastCheck nation-wide, should follow Phase 1 as soon as is practicably possible. The decision to proceed on a phased basis is a reflection of the complexities involved in the screening process and it is essential that the programme is driven by International Quality Assurance criteria and best practice. Preliminary planning meetings have been held between BreastCheck and the health boards concerning the roll out of Phase 2 of the Programme.

Symptomatic breast cancer services are being developed nationwide in line with the core recommendations of the report of the sub-group of the National Cancer Forum on the Development of Symptomatic Breast Disease services.

In relation to radiography services in general, discussions are on-going between the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science, the Higher Education Authority, the radiography profession and training colleges to boost the number of training places in radiography.

The Report of the Expert Group on Radiography Grades published July 2001 has endorsed the important steps been taken by the Department of Health and Children, the Higher Education Authority, the Department of Education and Science and the colleges in planning for additional training places needed. Implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Group report relating to recruitment and retention and the creation of a revised career structure can be expected to make an important contribution to helping to address staff shortages.

It is planned that there will be a very significant increase in training provision over the next two years with a 150% increase in training places for therapeutic radiography in TCD (15 additional places) and a doubling in numbers of course places in diagnostic radiography in UCD (20 additional places) from September 2002.