TENS of thousands of Hampshire women were not up to date with potentially ‘life-saving’ breast screenings before the pandemic, figures have shown.

As part of the NHS breast screening programme, women aged between 50 and 71 are invited every three years for a mammogram to check for cancers that are too small to see of feel.

But now data from NHS Digital has shown that despite 77% of eligible women being up to date with screenings as of March 2020, around 38,990 women across the county were not.

This figure was down slightly from 78% from the year before and although it was above the national minimum target of 70%, it fell short of the 80% that the NHS says all services should aim for.

In Southampton, 70% of women were up to date in March 2020, leaving around 6,500 women that hadn’t been seen.

An NHS England spokesperson told the Echo: “The pandemic has inevitably meant that some patient services have been disrupted, which is why the NHS in England is investing more than £70 million in additional funding for screening capacity.

“Extra weekend and evening clinics will help every woman who needs a screen to access one, and the NHS in England has also been offering open invitations to get screened, so if you’re invited for a screening appointment, please come forward and attend.”

The most recent figures from Public Health England, which span a three-year period, show there were 69 breast cancer deaths in Southampton women aged up to 75 between 2017 and 2019 – equating to 26 in every 100,000 women in the age group.

Meanwhile, across Hampshire there were 406 breast cancer deaths in women aged up to 75 in the same period.

Now cancer charities have encouraged women to attend their appointments.

Dr Rachel Orritt of Cancer Research UK said the screenings can “save lives by picking up breast cancer early” and added that “It’s important to try and remove barriers so that those who want to take up their screening invitation find it easy to do so.

“For example, people may still be worried about attending healthcare appointments but Covid-19 protocols are in place at breast screening facilities to make it feel as safe as possible.

“Cancer Research UK encourages people to read the information they receive with their invitation carefully, so they can decide whether to take part.”