Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening
Temporary pause of some population screening programmes
Some population screening programmes in Northern Ireland have been paused for the time being. This decision has been made, in agreement with the Health Minister, so that Health and Social Care (HSC) staff and resources can be redeployed in response to COVID-19 and to reduce the risk of exposure to the corona virus for the public and HSC staff.
This position will be kept under review, but is likely to last for up to 3 months in the first instance.
The following screening programmes are now paused:
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screening and surveillance monitoring;
- Routine breast screening;
- Bowel cancer screening;
- Routine cervical screening; and
- Routine diabetic eye screening and surveillance monitoring.
Screening will continue to be offered to people who require:
- Higher risk breast screening. Although all eligible women will be being screened at the higher risk screening unit in Antrim Area Hospital (previously women who required mammography only were able to have their screening at their local breast screening unit).
- Diabetic eye screening for pregnant women (sight saving laser treatments and urgent intravitreal injections will continue to be provided)
- Antenatal infections screening.
- Newborn blood spot screening.
- Newborn hearing screening. However, this programme will be focused on completing screening prior to discharge from maternity units only.
- Tests for non-routine cervical screening (e.g. repeat tests requested by colposcopy or the laboratory).
Some population screening programmes in Northern Ireland have been paused for the time being. This decision has been made, in agreement with the Health Minister, so that Health and Social Care (HSC) staff and resources can be redeployed in response to COVID-19 and to reduce the risk of exposure to the corona virus for HSC staff and the public; particularly for more vulnerable groups.
The Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme is one of the programmes that has now been paused. This means that no invitation letters will be issued inviting men to attend for screening during the temporary pause. The programme normally invites men in their 65th year to attend for screening.
It also means that men will not be able to self-refer for AAA screening during the temporary pause. In normal circumstances men aged over 65 and who haven’t yet been screened are able to request a screening appointment by phoning the central screening office.
In addition, invites to men who have had a small or medium sized aneurysm diagnosed through the screening programme, to attend for ongoing surveillance, have also been paused. The risk of a small or medium abdominal aortic aneurysm growing to the point of needing to be referred or rupturing (splitting or tearing) while surveillance is paused is extremely low. These men have been informed individually of the pause in the surveillance programme by letter.
We will restart the AAA Screening Programme as soon as it is safe to do so, but is likely that this pause will last for up to 3 months in the first instance.
Please follow the government advice to stay safe and well during this time.
We have added the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) to the website. If you require further information please contact the Programme Manager, Sarah Louise Dornan, on 02896 151212.
I am almost 65 years old. When will I be invited for my AAA screening?
Please be reassured you’ll not miss out on your invitation to attend for a screening test. When screening re-starts, you’ll be sent an invitation through the post.
I have already been screened but have not received my result. When will I receive it?
Screening has now been temporarily paused. If you have not received your result letter please contact the Programme Manager, Sarah Louise Dornan, on 02896 151212.
I have an AAA and my monitoring scan is due. When will I now be invited for this?
You’ll be re-invited for your monitoring scan when it’s safe to re-start the AAA Screening Programme. A letter has been sent to you providing more information about how this is being managed.
When the programme does re-start, invitations will be re-issued and appointments re-arranged. We’ll do everything we can to ensure screening invitations and appointments are prioritised appropriately.
What should I do as I wait for my surveillance appointment?
The risk of a small or medium sized AAA growing to the point of needing to be referred or rupturing while surveillance is paused is extremely low and you should not be unduly concerned or worried.
If you develop any or all of the following symptoms below you should contact 999 and make sure you tell them that you have an AAA found through screening:
- sudden, new symptoms of severe pain in the abdomen or severe lower back pain
- sweaty, pale and clammy skin
- fainting or passing out
If possible, please remember to present your AAA Alert Card to the ambulance staff as this will contain details of the size of your AAA.
I’ve been invited to attend for further assessment, should I still attend my appointment?
If you have been diagnosed with a large aneurysm you’ll have been referred to the Specialist Vascular Team for assessment. They will contact you directly to discuss what happens now.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a widening of the main artery in the body, as it passes through the abdomen. The walls of the artery weaken, causing it to balloon out. It is more common in older men, smokers, people with high blood pressure and people with other cardiovascular diseases.
At the age of 65, about 1 in every 65 men will have an AAA. The aneurysm usually causes no symptoms and most people are not aware they have it. However, about a third of these will rupture (burst) if not treated. This is usually fatal and each year 80-100 people in Northern Ireland die from a ruptured AAA.
The challenge is to reduce mortality from AAA by diagnosing and treating the condition before a rupture occurs.
The equality and human rights screening template for the abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is available here: AAA_Screening_screening_template_Feb_2012.pdf
Northern Ireland AAA Screening Programme
The Northern Ireland AAA Screening Programme offers AAA screening to all men in their 65th year in Northern Ireland and was implemented in June 2012 on a phased basis within the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area. Full roll-out of AAA screening commenced from July 2012 throughout the rest of Northern Ireland.
The aim of the AAA screening programme is to reduce AAA-related mortality by providing systematic, population-based screening using a simple ultrasound scan.
There is evidence of a significant reduction (45%) in mortality from AAA in those men aged between 65 and 79 years who undergo ultrasound screening. Men older than 65 years will be able to opt into the programme and request screening through the central screening office.
There is also evidence of the long-term cost-effectiveness of AAA screening in men and further evidence that the early mortality benefit from screening is maintained.
The items available for download here were part of the professional information packs sent out to all GPs, GP practice managers and pharmacies prior to the launch of the programme. Please note that pharmacies received a copy of the AAA screening invitation leaflet, but not the three results leaflets.
Professional information pack materials to download
The invitation leaflet is sent out to all eligible men with the letter inviting them to screening. The results leaflets are for men diagnosed with a small, medium or large AAA. The relevant result leaflet will be given to screened men directly after their scan.
The poster was sent out to all GPs, GP practice managers and pharmacies in the run-up to the launch of the programme as a means of raising awareness.
The frequently asked questions address issues relating to all aspects of the programme: what an AAA is, roll-out of the programme, the screening process, the scan itself, possible results, available treatment, and how personal information is used.