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Alert over mammography backlog

GPs have been warned to

prepare themselves for a surge of worried patients after leaders of the NHS breast cancer screening programme conceded that workload pressures were causing backlogs.

They blamed 'pressures on the service' for the second successive annual fall in the number of women screened in response to a routine invitation.

In contrast, the number of mammography referrals made by GPs or patients themselves rose by 4,421 to 137,549 in 2001/2, according to data published in the programme's annual report last week.

The service faces a 40 per cent rise in workload as a result of two high-profile Government pledges ­ to ensure every woman screened has two-view mammography by December and to extend routine screening to all women aged 65-70 by next year.

Public health minister Melanie Johnson admitted workforce shortages meant some areas were having 'difficulties'.

Exeter and Devon's screening unit has already raised its screening interval from three to four years.

Dr Rob Bailey, a GP in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, who helped write the Government guidelines on breast cancer referrals, said the backlog would add to GP workload.

Patients who had not received a screening invitation when they expected one and those whose mammography results were delayed would go to their GP for help, said Dr Bailey, a hospital practitioner in breast cancer.

He warned: 'If the screening programme is getting

behind then there is a potential problem. The number of cases GPs see will inevitably rise.'

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