Breast screening uptake in Somerset remains below pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.

It comes as charities have said women still face too many barriers to regular testing, as fewer people in England underwent tests than before the coronavirus pandemic

Anyone registered with a GP as female will be invited for NHS breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 71.

NHS England figures show 26,720 of the 39,150 people invited for a screening in the former NHS Somerset CCG had a test in the year to March this year.

It meant uptake of the screening stood at 68% – up from 67% the year before, but below pre-pandemic levels of 73% in 2019-20.

Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Breast screening is an important tool for spotting the early signs of breast cancer at a stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.

"The current evidence suggests that breast screening reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer by about 1,300 a year in the UK."

She added there are various reasons why people may not engage with screening, from practical barriers around attending appointments to fear about a potential diagnosis.

"Tackling barriers is important to ensure that everyone who wants to take up their screening invitation can find it easy to do so," she said.

The figures show breast screening uptake across England increased to 65% last year from 63% in 2021-22. However, it remained well below pre-pandemic levels when 70% was recorded.

Melanie Sturtevant, associate director of policy, evidence and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: "It’s deeply worrying that breast screening uptake remains well below the minimum 70% target, as it plays a vital role in saving lives from breast cancer.

"While small improvements have been made in the percentage of women taking up their breast screening invite, this data makes clear that uptake has barely risen above the record low levels seen during COVID-19."

She added "far too many" people face barriers and difficulties accessing screening, and government investment is needed to make the programme more accessible and convenient.

An NHS Spokesperson said – despite a fall in the number of women responding to invitations – the breast screening programme has eliminated the COVID backlog.

They said: "The NHS is sending out more breast screening invitations than ever before, so anyone who has received an invitation should make an appointment – it could save your life."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "It is vital to detect cancer as early as possible, and more than 2 million eligible women received breast cancer scans last year, up significantly on the previous two years.

"NHS breast cancer screening has been recovering since the height of the pandemic, and earlier this year we invested a further £10 million for 29 new breast screening units, and over 60 life-saving upgrades to services in the areas where they are most needed."