Beating bowel cancer together

Bowel screening in Northern Ireland temporarily paused

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

Minister 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.

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."

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “We fully appreciate that our severely overstretched NHS is facing unprecedented demand at the moment. We know that the Northern Ireland Government will not have taken the decision to pause the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme lightly. There are a number of reasons why the Department of Health requested this pause, including the reallocation and availability of staff over the coming weeks and months. This is not an ideal situation, but at times like these we need to be realistic and we hope the service will resume as soon as it safe to do so.” 

Screening is for people without symptoms. It is important that if you are worried about any possible bowel cancer symptoms you still contact your GP. GPs are being asked to increase their use of phone and video consulting so people don’t need to go into the surgery.

Update: Bowel cancer screening in Northern Ireland recommenced on Monday 17 August 2020.

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