Scottish Government
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Health screening programmes paused

NHS resources dedicated to tackling COVID-19.

Due to the rapidly changing situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19) the Scottish Government is to temporarily pause a number of screening programmes.

In practice this means no additional patients will be invited for screening until further notice. Results for those who have recently been screened or who have completed and returned home test kits will continue to be processed.

The move means healthcare staff can be re-allocated to support other essential services, including COVID-19 laboratory testing and covering for colleagues who are unwell or self-isolating.

Because members of the public are already choosing not to attend appointments, a structured pause also helps ensure people will not miss their screening altogether.

The paused programmes are as follows:

  • Breast Screening (mammograms)
  • Cervical Screening (smear tests)
  • Bowel Screening (home test kits)
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening (ultrasound of abdomen)
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (Eye) Screening (images taken of the eye).

Pregnancy and Newborn Screening Programmes, including tests offered during pregnancy and just after birth, will continue where logistically practical.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick yesterday said:

“This has been a difficult decision to take, but it is important to be aware that these screening programmes are focused on a well population, who are not known to have the conditions they are screened for.

“I want members of the public to be assured we will restart screening programmes as soon as it is safe to do so following clinical advice. When this happens invitations will be re-issued and appointments will be rearranged.

“In the meantime, it is absolutely vital for patients in between screening appointments or awaiting a rescheduled appointment to be aware of any symptoms or signs of the conditions screened for. Anyone having these symptoms should contact their GP practice.” 

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood added:

“While there are risks to individuals through delayed diagnosis of conditions that these screening programmes would have picked up, these risks need to be weighed up in the context of the pressures on the NHS in Scotland posed by Covid-19 and balanced against other difficult decisions we will need to make.

“The programmes will be potentially fragile due to staff absences and there are clear risks to patients in being asked to attend for screening. The redeployment of staff to work in other areas is also valuable as part of our national effort to tackle the effects of COVID-19.”


More information on symptoms can be found on the NHS Inform website

The decision was taken with the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and follows careful consideration of all of the risks involved, including detailed risk assessments from the clinical leads of each the screening programmes, The Directors of Public Health and NHS National Services Scotland.

Estimated numbers affected per quarter-year, based on the most recent information available to Information Services Division, are:

  • 248,177 patients received bowel screening, of which 220 diagnosed with cancer.
  • 46,596 patients received breast screening, of which 291 diagnosed with cancer.
  • 101,963 patients received cervical screening, of which 70 diagnosed with invasive cancer.


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