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Inequalities in colorectal cancer screening uptake in Wales: examination of the impact of the temporary suspension of the screening programme during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Diana Bright, Sharon Hillier, Jiao Song, Dyfed W Huws, Giles Greene, Karen Hodgson, Ashley Akbari, Rowena Griffiths, Alisha R Davies

Posted 09 Aug 2022
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.08.08.22278493

Background: Response to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the temporary disruption of cancer screening in the UK, and strong public messaging to stay safe and to protect NHS capacity. Following reintroduction in services, we explored the impact on inequalities in uptake of the Bowel Screening Wales (BSW) programme to identify groups who may benefit from tailored interventions. Methods: Records within the BSW were linked to electronic health records (EHR) and administrative data within the Secured Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank. Ethnic group was obtained from a linked data method available within SAIL. We examined uptake for the first 3 months of invitations (August to October) following the reintroduction of BSW programme in 2020, compared to the same period in the preceding 3 years. Uptake was measured across a 6 month follow-up period. Logistic models were conducted to analyse variations in uptake by sex, age group, income deprivation quintile, urban/rural location, ethnic group, and clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) status in each period; and to compare uptake within sociodemographic groups between different periods. Results: Uptake during August to October 2020 (period 2020/21; 60.4%) declined compared to the same period in 2019/20 (62.7%) but remained above the 60% Welsh standard. Variation by sex, age, income deprivation, and ethnic groups was observed in all periods studied. Compared to the pre-pandemic period in 2019/20, uptake declined for most demographic groups, except for older individuals (70-74 years) and those in the most income deprived group. Uptake continues to be lower in males, younger individuals, people living in the most income deprived areas and those of Asian and unknown ethnic backgrounds. Conclusions: Our findings are encouraging with overall uptake achieving the 60% Welsh standard during the first three months after the programme restarted in 2020 despite the disruption. Inequalities did not worsen after the programme resumed activities but variations in CRC screening in Wales associated with sex, age, deprivation and ethnicity remain. This needs to be considered in targeting strategies to improve uptake and informed choice in CRC screening to avoid exacerbating disparities in CRC outcomes as screening services recover from the pandemic.

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