Temporary pause of routine screening programmes

Date published: 07 April 2020

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that a number of routine screening programmes have been paused to allow staff and resources to be reallocated to tackling Covid-19.


Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Covid-19 is the most serious public health emergency that Northern Ireland has ever experienced. Given the unprecedented challenge we face, and the fact that in the next short while we face into what will be the most critical period of our fight against Covid-19, I am now having to take decisions that I would never have countenanced previously.  

“Pausing these programmes was not an easy decision. I know the importance of screening, but this decision will allow reallocation of precious resources to our frontline staff as they undertake the massive task ahead of them. In addition it must be remembered that many people who attend screening programmes are in a higher-risk category for coronavirus and it is essential that we minimise risk to those people through maintaining social distancing at this time.”

The move follows the announcement of plans to suspend non-urgent outpatient appointments and non-urgent surgical admissions.

Programmes affected are:

  • routine cervical cancer screening,
  • routine breast cancer screening,
  • bowel cancer screening,
  • abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening and surveillance monitoring, and
  • routine diabetic eye screening and surveillance monitoring.

Screening will continue to be offered for people who require:-

  • higher risk breast screening,
  • diabetic eye screening for pregnant women,
  • newborn bloodspot screening,
  • newborn hearing screening, (this programme will be focused on completing screening prior to discharge from maternity units only)
  • antenatal infections screening and
  • Smear tests for non-routine cervical screening (e.g. repeat tests requested by colposcopy or the laboratory)

Minister Swann added: “This is a temporary suspension and I will ensure that the programmes resume at the earliest possible opportunity. In the meantime I would urge anyone who may have symptoms of some of the conditions that we screen for, to contact their GP.

“All best efforts will be made to contact patients who have received a timed appointment to let them know that the clinic will have to be postponed. I thank you for your patience and understanding at this difficult time.”


Notes to editors: 

  1. Trusts are in the process of writing out to affected patients to inform them of the impact on their individual appointments.
  2. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 9052 0575 or email pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk. For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110 and your call will be returned.
  3. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.

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