The Northern Ireland AAA Screening Programme offers a quick, free and painless scan to all men in their 65th year. The aim of the programme is to reduce deaths from an AAA, which is a swelling of the main artery in the body as it passes through the abdomen. The NI Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme invites men for an ultrasound scan of their abdomen in the year they turn 65. Men over the age of 65, who have never attended for AAA screening, can ask to be screened by calling the Screening Programme Office on 028 9063 1828. Men are six times more likely than women to have an AAA which is why the Programme is aimed at them. The chances of having an aneurysm increase with age.
The Programme has recently celebrated its third birthday. To help mark this anniversary the Public Health Agency (which commissions and quality assures the service) and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (which is responsible for the management and delivery of the programme) are keen to engage the support of community pharmacies across Northern Ireland to encourage all men aged 65 and over to seriously consider taking up the offer of having this vital health check – a simple procedure which could be life-saving.
Dr Adrian Mairs, Public Health Lead for the programme, explains: “As some people get older, the wall of their aorta can become weak and balloon out to form an aneurysm; rather like a bulge in a worn tyre. If this bursts, it is often fatal, and each year around 80–100 people in Northern Ireland die from this disease. Most people will be unaware that they have an aneurysm, as it usually produces no symptoms until it ruptures. The good news is that AAAs can be detected early by the screening programme. They can then be monitored and, if necessary, treated. Research shows that screening men aged 65, using an ultrasound scan, will reduce the death rate from ruptured AAAs by around 50%.”
The programme relies on fellow HSC professionals, including community pharmacists and GPs, to help get this message out to the local population and spread awareness of this straightforward one-off test. Members of the programme team would be delighted to hear from any community pharmacists who would be willing to display a poster, awareness leaflets or some business cards in their pharmacy. The team are also very happy to provide a range of other professional and public information materials or come along and talk to any pharmacy staff, or related groups, about AAA screening throughout Northern Ireland.
Pharmacies wishing to find out more about the programme are invited to contact Ms Diane Stewart, Programme Manager at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (on 02890 638256 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mrs Jacqueline McDevitt, Quality Assurance Manager at the Public Health Agency (on 02890 311611 or by email at Jacqueline.email@example.com).
Since the introduction of the screening programme, 83% of men invited each year have attended. To date, 451 AAAs have been detected, which is approximately one in every 60 men screened.
Click here to access the health professional leaflet
The risk of having an abdominal aortic aneurysm is increased if: you smoke, have high blood pressure, your brother, sister or parent has, or had, an AAA.
Further information about the NI AAA Screening Programme can be found at www.aaascreening.info.