30th March 2003
Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003
Cllr. Pat O Rawe (Newry and Armagh), speaking on motion 62 on Breast Screening
When we think that Ireland has the third highest death rate from breast cancer in the European Union, we begin to realise just what a disgrace it is that women living in the west of the country do not have access to the `national' screening programme. Comprehensive screening facilities are currently restricted to women aged 50-64 in the six counties and the eastern region of the 26.
Make no mistake about it, breast screening works - BreastCheck has detected well over 500 cancers since being set up in 2000. Expanding screening services so they cover the whole of the island is essential if the target to reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 20 per cent in 10 years for women of this age is to be achieved. However, we should not assume that the problem will be solved by simply expanding BreastCheck to health boards in the west.
For a start, there is the issue of uptake. BreastCheck boasts that in areas in which it operates, it has exceeded its target uptake rate of 70% with a rate of 74%. That is all well and good, but if we look at it another way, over a quarter of women in the target age range are not being screened. Unfortunately, the uptake figures in the north are even lower, with 28% of women in the target age range not being screened. We need to be asking why more than one in four women that should be screened are not. For one thing, we should be examining whether the appointments-only system run by BreastCheck that is appropriate, or whether drop-in sessions would have the effect of encouraging more women to attend.
We should also keep in mind that it is only women in a very narrow age range that are eligible for breast screening services north and south. It would appear that there are good technical reasons why there is little benefit in screening women below the age of 50 for breast cancer. However, the reason for screening women aged 65 and over would seem to simply a matter of money, in that it would require a major expansion of services. What is at work here is a combination of ageism and sexism - older women are being denied a service that could prevent them from dying from breast cancer.
Amidst all the crises concerning acute hospital services, it is vitally important that preventative services are not made to suffer. A long view needs to be taken. Money spent now on prevention will more than pay for itself through a reduction in pressure on acute services. All women have a right to access to the best and most preventative services. That means that all women over the age of 50, irrespective of where they live should be offered and encouraged to use breast screening.
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