Wiltshire Breast Screening Service at GWH celebrates 21 years

Posted: September 13, 2012

Breast screening service reaches 21 years

The Breast Centre at Great Western Hospital is celebrating 21 years of the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service.

It was a lucky day for staff when service opened on Friday 13th September 1991.  The service saw the introduction of a mobile screening unit stationed at the former Victoria Hospital in Swindon and moved around to other sites in Wiltshire, including the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) where they also had a dedicated Breast Screening Unit.

Breast team when the service began in 1991 
Wiltshire Breast Screening Service, 1991

In 2002 the service moved to its new home at GWH.

When the service began it was a small team with around 10 members of staff, whereas today they have a team of 25 staff, including Radiologists, Radiographers, Assistant Practitioners, Imaging Assistants, Receptionists and clerical staff.  The team also work alongside a multidisciplinary team including Breast Surgeons and Breast Care Clinical Nurse Specialists.

In the 21 years the service has carried out over 420,000 screenings and detected thousands of cancers.  The service originally began screening women between the ages of 50 and 64 every three years in line with the national NHS Breast Screening Programme.  Since then the age range has changed to 50 to 70.  The national screening programme was the first of its kind in the world and began inviting women for screening in 1988.

In its first few years the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service screened a few thousand women, but now the service at GWH screens over 25,000 women a year as part of efforts to detect early signs of cancer.

Suzie Ferrari, Breast Centre Manager at Great Western Hospital said:

"It is great to be able to celebrate 21 years of the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service and the success it has had since it began.  There have been a lot of changes to our service and to breast screening as a whole in the last 21 years.  Moving from the old PMH to GWH was a big challenge for the team, and moving to totally digital equipment in 2010/11 was also a major change.  Before the change our images were taken using old fashioned films, and now it is all done digitally and using memory cards.  This has made diagnosis more accurate and speeded up the process."

In March 2011 the Breast Care Centre at GWH introduced major improvements to services for women across Swindon and Wiltshire after an investment of £1.6m.  Special guest Melinda Messenger officially opened the new facilities which included two new mobile units stationed at different places in Wiltshire throughout the year offering routine screening close to patients' homes, and a new Stereo Biopsy Unit which allows for faster and more accurate sampling of suspicious areas within the breast.

Dr Sarah Taylor, Clinical Lead for the Breast Screening Service, said:

"Last year the age range for screening was partially extended to 47 - 73 as part of an expansion of the national programme.  This expansion has meant that up to 5000 more women are offered routine screening each year and the new facilities at GWH and in the community have been helping us to meet that additional demand."

Dr Sarah Taylor 
Dr Sarah Taylor

"Over the years a big challenge has been keeping the motivation going and encouraging women to be more breast aware and to come for screening.  When the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service first opened the uptake was very high.  This was because the service opened not long after the national screening programme had begun and it was becoming more recognised.  Our uptake is still high today, however around 25% of the women who are invited for screening do not attend."

"In the future I imagine there will be a great deal more changes in the service we offer and in breast screening overall.  Even now we are seeing more advanced technology which allows us to detect and diagnose cancers more quickly and that is excellent news for patients."

More information about the breast screening service is available here.