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;
  • 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.


Population screening programmes have a key role to play in early detection of disease and a range of programmes are currently available in Northern Ireland. The PHA has responsibility for commissioning, coordinating and quality assuring these programmes.

However, screening is not suitable for every condition. Organised screening programmes are only established on the recommendation of the UK National Screening Committee and according to the best available evidence. Any condition being considered as a screening programme must meet a number of stringent criteria before it is recommended by the Committee.

In Northern Ireland the PHA operates the following screening programmes: