BreastCheck screening services are to resume in Donegal next week, it has been confirmed.

There are 5,110 women waiting for screening in Donegal since the programme was suspended in March due to Covid-19.

Services were scheduled to resume on 27th October, however, due to staff redeployment, the first screening appointments in Donegal will now begin from 11th November.

It could take between nine and 14 months to clear the backlog of appointments in the county.

During the pause in screening, staff at the Letterkenny BreastCheck unit were redeployed to carry out mammograms on women with breast symptoms. This team is set to return from Letterkennny University Hospital this week to resume non-symptomatic screening in the community.

The delay in the restart of BreastCheck was a cause for serious concern among local campaigners and Donegal Action for Cancer Care raised queries with BreastCheck on the issues. The group has greeted today’s confirmation as good news.

Betty Holmes, health campaigner with Donegal Action for Cancer Care

The campaign group received a response explaining that 27th October start date was a ‘phased restart of screening’. In the past week, BreastCheck staff who were redeployed continued to carry out tests in LUH to enable high-risk patients with symptoms to be seen quicker, with the aim of improving the outcome of any diagnosis during a time when breast health resources were constrained.

BreastCheck confirmed that screening invitations are being issued to women from this week ahead of appointments restarting on Wednesday.

The unit is usually operational three days a week, but plans are in place to increase this to five days per week. BreastCheck said it is actively recruiting staff and looking at other ways to maximise capacity.

The DACC group was told that capacity will dictate the length of time needed to clear the current waiting list.

A spokesperson for BreastCheck said: “BreastCheck is operating at reduced capacity due to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We will be able to screen 90 women per week when operating three days per week, and 150 when operating five days per week.

“Screening three days a week we should invite all women on the list in 14 months and screening five days a week we will invite all women in under 9 months.”

The programme coordinators also said that BreastCheck services are due to return to Donegal Town in March 2021 and said: “We appreciate that screening services are highly valued by the people of Donegal and they are keen to see an immediate resumption.

“It is a harsh reality of COVID-19 that many of our health services are not yet operating in the way they did in the past. Please be assured we are working our hardest to provide the people of Donegal with their necessary resources and safely resume screening.

“I hope you will also understand that in times of limited resource e.g. in theatre and diagnostic services it was important to concentrate our efforts, for a period of time, on those women at highest risk.

“We hope that our work there will also have helped to ensure there are no future delays for any patients who have a cancer detected through screening.”