The impact of Covid-19 on breast screening services

London breast screening recovery team seeking support from radiographers

Published: 15 April 2021 Mammography

In March 2020, like the rest of the world, the NHS Breast Screening Programme (BSP) was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Yvonne Damanhuri.

Breast screening, along with all other screening programmes, is an essential service, so has continued to invite and screen their eligible population. To protect clients attending and staff working in breast screening, Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures such as PPE; extended appointment times; and cleaning between clients have been put in place. This is paramount as the safety of NHS clients and staff is top priority. Due to these additional safety measures in place, capacity within the breast screening services has decreased and this has created a backlog.

The London Breast Screening Recovery Programme

In June 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) London Region established the London Breast Screening Recovery Programme. The programme membership consists of the six London NHS Breast Screening Programmes, NHSEI, Public Health England (PHE), Health Education England (HEE) and London Cancer Alliances. The purpose of the group is to work collaboratively to develop and implement new, innovative, ways of working to support London NHSBSP to recover, with six areas of focus:

  • Clinical pathways including IPC
  • Improving uptake and reducing inequalities
  • Demand, access, bookings and optimising population benefit
  • Workforce
  • Digital, IT and Data
  • Estates and facilities

There has been amazing work taking place in these areas, such as reducing appointment times by sharing clearer IPC processes; moving to an open invitation schedule to support and optimise utilisation; introducing 14 day reminder calls and reminder text messages tob improve uptake; developing patient facing resources, such as a video and flyer to communicate the importance of screening and the measures in place to reduce infection
risks; producing a data dashboard to support services to monitor effectiveness and adapt quickly where needed; and so much more.

London NHS Breast Screening Workforce

Underpinning all of this great work is the London breast screening workforce - without them, clients would not be screened - resulting in negative impact on early diagnosis of cancers. The recovery programme has developed a strategy with short, medium- and long-term workforce initiatives to increase the number of Mammographers and Assistant Practitioners working within the London NHSBSP.  For example:

We worked collaboratively with the national ‘back to work’ campaign to identify appropriately qualified retirees wishing to support the NHS return to service. Additional funding has been put in place to support services to host Level 4 mammography apprentices.

A pan London approach has been made to all NHS-approved national agencies to identify mammographers who could potentially work in London to support recovery.

We are also providing the existing workforce with additional health and wellbeing support. For example, we recently held a pilot event that focused solely on health and wellbeing of all the London NHSBSP workforce.

Feedback indicates that this event supported attendees to identify news ways of managing their health and wellbeing and supporting colleagues with their health and wellbeing. We have sourced additional funding to offer existing staff access to training and education to increase skill mix and support with career progression. There has been great work to date, but more is still needed to recover.

How can you help?

We will like to hear from you if you have training in radiography, experience in breast screening or mammography and you are able to offer some flexible or fixed hours to support the recovery of our services in London. In return and in addition to competitive rates, we will support you with accommodation and travel costs if you live outside of London. We will also offer you appropriate support to renew your registration if your HCPC registration has lapsed.

To express interest of support to our breast screening recovery, please complete the online form, available here. When we receive your completed form, your details will be shared with the services for which you have expressed interest. The service will then contact you to discuss how you can work collaboratively to best serve the population of London. 

To discuss or clarify any of these, please contact the London Breast Screening Recovery Programme on [email protected].

Sue Johnson, SoR Professional Officer for Clinical Imaging and who leads on breast imaging at the Society added: ‘The SoR was pleased to be invited to support the London Breast Screening Recovery programme and be included in communications about the development of the work.

‘While we are not at every meeting or involved in all decisions, it is useful to understand how the work progresses and the impact it has on our members and the women being screened. We are particularly pleased to see a focus on the wellbeing of the workforce who have already had a very stressful few years and face continued pressure in the years to come as they tackle the backlog and associated consequences of the pandemic.’

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