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Breast Screening goes digital at the Countess of Chester

Thousands of local women who attend for breast imaging at the Countess of Chester Hospital stand to benefit from the latest digital technology, putting Chester at the forefront of the region's Breast Screening programme. The Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is among one of the first breast screening units in Cheshire and Merseyside to make a complete changeover from analogue to digital imaging, exceeding the standards set by the Department of Health for the NHS by the end of 2010.

The change has been made possible thanks to joint funding from the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust who funded the cost of the equipment and NHS Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust who will be funding the ongoing running costs.

The Countess Breast Screening Unit also had to satisfy rigorous quality control standards to prove it was ready to implement the latest digital imaging technology. This became fully operational on 1st December 2010. Whilst conventional screening equipment remains reliable and of a very high standard, digital imaging technology makes it easier for staff interpreting the images to identify subtle changes in younger women's breast tissue (the under-50s). This is important because the first wave of the Screening Programme Age Extension commenced in December 2010 to include younger women aged 47-50 years of age. Until then, all women aged 50-70 years were invited to attend a breast screening appointment once every three years. By the end of 2012 all women aged 47-73 should receive 3 yearly invitations for breast screening as a Department of Health requirement. As a result, women aged 47-73 will have the benefit of at least one extra breast screen invitation during their lifetime, compared to current arrangements. (Women over 73 may continue to self-refer every 3 years for as long as they wish.)

Invitations for a breast screening appointment will continue to be sent, practice-by-practice, in a rolling programme. The most recent figures (for 2008-2009), show that overall uptake for breast screening in western Cheshire is higher than the average for England - 82% for 53-64-year olds compared to 77% for England overall, and 80% for 65-70 year olds compared with 75% for England overall. However, the figures drop for women living in our most deprived areas. Sarah Johnson-Griffiths, Consultant in Public Health for NHS Western Cheshire, said:

"Only 69% of women living in our most deprived areas had been screened in the previous three years, and uptake amongst our 50-52 year olds is also amongst the lowest in the region."

"Ground-breaking advances in our understanding of cancer are leading to significant improvements for patients and we want every woman in western Cheshire to share the benefits of these breakthroughs in detection and treatment. Survival rates continue to improve but we need to focus more than ever before on early detection and persuading local women to accept their screening invitation."

The new state-of-the-art digital equipment will help that detection.