Overview

Population screening programmes identify apparently healthy people who may be at increased risk of a disease or condition.

Once identified these people can get earlier treatment and make better-informed decisions.

Policies

These programmes are implemented on the advice of the UK National Screening Committee, who:

  • oversee screening policy in all 4 nations
  • work with the different implementation bodies to support the delivery

Types of screening

If you’re invited to be screened, you’ll be tested for a particular condition — for example a bowel screen only looks for signs of bowel cancer.

In Scotland, screening is offered for:

Pregnancy and post-natal newborn screening are also offered to check the health of your baby.

Eligibility

Some screening tests in Scotland are only offered to men, and others are only for women. You'll be invited to be screened based on your age and gender.

If you’re likely to be offered screening, please make sure that your GP practice has your current address so we can send you an invitation.

Screening for men

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is only offered to 65 year old men. However, if you’re over 65 and have never been screened, you can arrange an appointment by phoning your local AAA screening centre.

Screening for women

Only women will be offered:

  • cervical screening (women aged 25 to 64)
  • breast screening (women aged 50 to 70)

If you're over the age of 70 you can continue to have breast screening, but you'll need to arrange your own appointment every 3 years.

If you're on non-routine screening (where screening results have shown changes that need further investigation or follow up) you'll be invited for cervical screening up to 70 years of age.

Screening for everyone

Everyone will be offered:

  • diabetic retinopathy screening (all over the age of 12)
  • bowel screening (all aged 50 to 74)

If you’re 75 or over, you can still take a bowel screening test every 2 years. However, you’ll need to request a new test kit each time.

Pregnancy and newborn screening

We'll invite expectant parents to be tested during the term of pregnancy (pregnancy screening).

We'll invite new parents to have their child tested after birth (newborn screening).

Benefits and risks

Before accepting a screening invitation, you should think about the benefits and risks involved.

Benefits

Screening can find the signs of serious conditions before any symptoms develop.

If a condition is found early:

  • it’s less likely to become severe
  • you’re less likely to need major treatment

As a result, regular screening can reduce the number of deaths from certain conditions.

Risks

While screening can improve quality of life, and prevent deaths through early diagnosis, no test is 100% accurate. There are risks involved in some types of screening.

It’s important to have realistic expectations of what screening can offer. Although screening can reduce the risk of developing a condition, or complications, it can’t always protect you from a particular illness.

Personal information

The NHS keeps a record of your personal screening information, including test results. All NHS staff must keep your personal health information confidential.

You have the right to see and get a copy of the information that the screening centre holds about you.

Sharing your information

Screening test information, including test samples, may be used for research, education and training. Any information used in this way will have personal details removed.

Service evaluation

The NHS regularly reviews screening services to make sure you’re offered the best service possible.

Screening information is used to:

  • identify areas for improvement
  • monitor the effectiveness of the service
  • make sure these services meet the agreed standard