Press Release

Colorectal cancer screening and cervical cancer vaccine to start under Government’s Cancer Control Programme – Minister for Health announces new details

Listen to the press conference

The top priority Cancer Control Programme set by the Government in 2006, and re-emphasised in the Renewed Programme for Government, is being brought to a new level today with three significant initiatives announced by the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D:

  • the setting of new Quality Assurance Standards for the development of the existing CervicalCheck programme
  • the programme details and commencement of preparatory work on a National Colorectal Screening Service
  • the beginning this year of a HPV vaccination programme for all girls in first year in secondary school.

The Minister said, “The Cancer Control Programme is of vital importance for every man, woman and child in the country. It is aimed at nothing less than providing world class cancer prevention and treatment services for our whole population, irrespective of means, region, address, or medical status.

Quality standards of care and best outcomes for patients are the driver of the entire programme and nothing comes higher in implementing the programme.

We have made huge progress under the Programme and every part of it is critical and linked to the other.

For example,

  • under Prof Tom Keane’s leadership, we have brought together breast cancer services from 33 hospitals into 8 specialist designated cancer centres with multi-disciplinary teams delivering the best possible care and treatment;
  • our Breastcheck Service is of the highest quality internationally and it is now in every county in Ireland; since it started, almost 600,000 mammograms have been given to women between the ages of 50 and 64 and, if necessary, follow up care, free of charge; 120,000 received this service last year;
  • the CervicalCheck screening programme was started in September 2008, and 340,000 women between the ages of 25 and 60 have received screening, and follow up care if necessary, free of charge also;
  • we have opened three Rapid Access Clinics for prostate cancer detection and treatment at St James’ Hospital Dublin, St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin and Galway University Hospital, and four rapid access lung cancer centres at Vincent’s, Beaumont and St. James’ and Waterford Regional hospitals.”

Cervical Screening

“Clinical experts have designed the new, explicit standards for CervicalCheck to bring it to top of class level internationally. The next and most important clinical priority for population screening has been colorectal screening. This is a critically important development for both men and women. Colorectal sreening has two great benefits – early detection of cancer, improving treatment outcomes, and the detection of pre-cancerous growths.

Today we are announcing the details of the programme for people aged between 60 and 69 in the initial stages. We are starting this year with the detailed preparations, so that the programme will commence screening in 2012 for the people involved on a national basis irrespective of where people live. ”

HPV vaccine

“In addition, I am pleased to announce that we are now in a position to supplement our Cervical Screening service with a HPV vaccination programme.

“The reason why this is now possible is because vaccine companies have offered substantially better prices for Ireland. A innovative tender process conducted in recent weeks by the HSE has resulted in more affordable costs to the Exchequer.

“The vaccine will be offered free of charge this year for approximately 30,000 girls who are now in first year of secondary school. This is the same group of girls who would have received the vaccine under previous plans for 2009.”

Concluding remarks

“In a very tough budgetary situation, the Government and I have given very high priority to cancer services.

“We have been able to provide a relatively modest €20m of new funding for cancer services this year. But most importantly, by working hard to deliver new services in new ways and by driving down costs, we are now able to put in place today’s and other vitally important cancer service developments.

“Making very scarce taxpayers’ funds stretch much further is the task for the foreseeable years.

“In cancer services, and in others, we are showing what can be done by organising ourselves better and getting the maximum value from the resources we have.

“Through the reorganisation of cancer services in designated centres, we are also demonstrating that quality care and cost-effectiveness go hand in hand.

“I would like to thank the Irish Cancer Society for its generous offer of €1m towards the implementation of the Colorectal Screening programme.”


Colorectal Screening

Colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and women in Ireland. About 2,200 new cases are diagnosed every year and approximately 1,000 people die from it.

Free screening will initially be offered to 400,000 people in the 60 to 69 age group. Screening will commence in early 2012. The programme will be operated by the National Cancer Screening Service in cooperation with the Health Service Executive. The programme will be extended to all those aged 55 to 74 years of age as logistics and resources allow.

The 60-69 year age group contains about 50% of all cases of colorectal cancer in the 55 -74 year age band, and other countries including England, Sweden and Finland have aimed their programmes on this 60 – 69 year age group also.

The NCSS will commence screening in early 2012. Before that, there is a very significant preparatory phase which the NCSS and HSE will work intensively on immediately. Among the steps to be completed in the pre-implementation phase will be:

  • Training of Advanced Nurse Practitioners to carry out colonoscopies as part of the programme.
  • Selecting and developing a number of colonoscopy facilities – probably 10 to 12 – around the country and refurbishing them where necessary.
  • Developing a system for the provision of test kits to every individual being screened.
  • Communicating with the population involved, including those who have not been previously targeted by screening programmes. Middle-aged to older males will be a new target group in this regard.
  • Ensuring that optimum standards of quality apply to all aspects of the programme.

HPV Vaccination Programme

There are approximately 250-300 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year, and 70-100 deaths. In September 2008 the Government rolled out the national cervical screening programme – CervicalCheck – which has the potential to significantly reduce over time incidence and deaths from cervical cancer. Over a quarter of a million women were screened in 2009.

The Minister recently requested the HSE to initiate a tendering process for the procurement of a HPV vaccine with a view to commencing a HPV vaccination programme for all girls in first year in secondary school. This tendering process for the vaccine is now completed and the HSE is committed to starting this campaign during the current year.