Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northants breast screening invitations struggling to reap results

Overall uptake of invited women to Kettering Breast Screening Service's unit has improved slightly but many women are still not turning up to their first mammogram appointments

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 6:00 am

Women called by Kettering General Hospital (KGH) for routine breast cancer screening mammograms are failing to respond to the invitations in increasing numbers, according to the latest figures released by NHS Digital.

Although KGH's overall ranking for 'first and all routine invitations' has improved year-on-year, with their England ranking rising from 42nd from 22nd overall, the unit had been in the top three just five years ago.

And the uptake by women aged 50 to 70 invited for the first time for screening has dropped from 62.1 per cent in 2017-18 to 59.8 per cent in 2018-19 - the service dropped from 31st to 57th out of the 78 screening centres.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast

Elaine McDonald from Corby, who was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer last March, said she thought that the uptake was 'terrible' and 'awful'.

She had heard that on one day alone in Corby 19 women had failed to keep appointments their routine mammograms.

The 54-year-old former teacher said: "I think there are three reasons why women don't go to their appointments.

"First they are scared to ask for time off work. Secondly, they are embarrassed and worried about what's going to happen and that it might be painful, and thirdly, they are just not taking it seriously enough. It's just as simple as that."

Elaine McDonald

Since 1999 mum-of-three Elaine has undergone a lumpectomy, chemo and radiotherapy, two mastectomies and chemotherapy.

In March 2019, Elaine was told the cancer had moved to her skin’s surface and there was nothing more her medical care team could do.

She said: "It's free and it's lifesaving. Other countries would welcome what we have. I find it amazing that people are burying their heads in the sand.

"They just have to look at what I've been through.

Glennis Hooper, founder of Crazy Hats breast cancer care charity

"There needs to be a big campaign to encourage women to go to the appointments. They're not getting the message across.

"Maybe if they miss a couple of invitations then the next one should come from their GP.

"Women need to realise and the doctors need to emphasise the importance. Take that minute to tell them."

In September, Elaine raised £3,300 for Macmillan cancer care, the charity which is supporting her end-of-life care.

She added: "We raised £3,300 in one afternoon so people do care enough to give their time and money.

"They also need to find time to ten minutes to save their lives."

Glennis Hooper, founder of Crazy Hats Wellingborough-based breast cancer care support charity was diagnosed with breast cancer 19 years ago.

She said: "I went for a scan recently and the screening ladies told me that about 20 per cent of the people on their list don't turn up.

"You should keep the appointment if you've got one. About half of the ladies who come to Crazy Hats have been diagnosed from routine screening.

"Self examination is good but there are lumps that are hidden and can only be found on a mammogram.

"I think it's laziness, a fear of the unknown, and it's also a bit selfish - if they have a family there's a knock-on effect.

"Breast cancer is rife but the earlier it is caught the less harsh the treatment - nobody wants a mastectomy."

Sonia Mathieson from Corby was called for her first routine screening mammogram at the end of last month.

The 51-year-old slimming consultant had been slightly unsure of what to expect and how long it would take.

She said: "Before I went along I had the impression that it would be uncomfortable but I went along and took less than six minutes from start to finish.

"The staff were lovely and so efficient. It was just slightly uncomfortable for a second.

"They told me that they had 67 patients booked in but they only expected 25 would turn up.

"What is that you want breast cancer for? - Get your boobs out and get them squished."

Deborah Black is the programme manager who oversees breast screening at Kettering General Hospital.

She said: “Attending for breast screening is a positive step you can take to protect your own health and in most people results in the reassurance that nothing is wrong.

“It is very important for women to have their screening test every three years as the risk of breast cancer rises with age.

“Screening involves women having a mammogram – a type of x-ray which can detect any developing issues, including tiny changes which would not be noticed by women themselves.

“The mammogram enables us to spot issues as early as possible and treatment is more effective the earlier it starts.

“So our message to all women who receive an invitation to be screened would be to encourage them to attend.”

NHS Digital breast screening statistics show a lower uptake of invitation to screening appointments across England over the last ten years falling from 73.6 per cent in 2008-9 to 71.1 per cent in 2018-19.

There was a similar trend in the East Midlands with attendance falling over the same period from 78.4 per cent to 72.9 per cent.

KGH’s screening rate for first invitation screening (the first time a women attends for screening) was 59.8 per cent for 2018-19 - the lowest of the nine Trusts measured in the East Midlands - but overall, when first and all routine invitations are measured, the Trust was third from best in the East Midlands with a rate of 74.4 per cent.

Deborah said: “We do many things to encourage a good screening uptake and routinely offer early morning appointments to provide women with more flexibility and in a recent patient survey 100 per cent of our women said it was easy to change an appointment to a more convenient venue, date or time.

“Also 97 per cent of women who attend breast screening at KGH say they would encourage other women to attend and 96 per cent rate their experience good or very good with our staff described as friendly, polite, efficient and sympathetic.

“In addition we also are involved in health promotion initiatives with our partners to improve screening uptake.”

Breast screening in England

The NHS Breast Screening Programme in England issues invitations to women between the ages of 50 and 70 for regular breast screening every three years under a national programme.

Screening is intended to reduce death rates by detecting breast cancer at an early stage when there is a better chance of successful treatment.

An X-ray called a mammogram is taken of each breast to spot cancers that may be too small to see or feel.

About 1 in 8 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime and if detected early, treatment is more successful.

Early diagnosis of cancer also reduces the likelihood of having a breast removed (a mastectomy) or chemotherapy.

Mammograms are carried out by female health practitioners.

Breasts are X-rayed one at a time by being placed on the X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate.

Two X-rays are taken of each breast at different angles and afterwards the mammogram is checked for any abnormalities.

After screening, about 1 in 25 women are called back for further assessment and of those called back, about one quarter are diagnosed with breast cancer.