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05 July 2013

Life-saving Screening Programme for men 65 and over

Men across Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset who are aged 65 and over are benefiting from a life-saving NHS screening programme to detect abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA). Men are six times more likely than women to have an AAA, which is why only men are screened.

Around 5,000 people, most of them older men, die in England and Wales every year as a result of having an AAAs, which are formed when the main blood vessel in the body weakens and expands. If a large AAA ruptures (bursts) this is a medical emergency that is usually fatal. The NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme aims to prevent around half of those deaths. In England more than 500,000 men have been screened since the national programme started in spring 2009.

The local programme is provided by University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. It is delivered in partnership with North Bristol NHS Trust, the Royal United Hospital Bath, and GP practices across the NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset to ensure local access for men to screening appointments and hospital follow up when indicated. 

The programme began in January 2012 and since then 5,252 men, including 241 who have self-referred, have been screened by the programme's screening technicians in GP practices and community hospitals; including the new South Bristol Community Hospital. 

The local uptake for screening currently is 76% and the local screening programme has detected 63 aneurysms since it started (1.2% AAA prevalence). Five men have successfully undergone surgical repair of their aneurysms and 58 men are under surveillance. 

Men that are found to have an aorta measuring between 3.0 and 5.4cm are seen by one of the programme's two nurse practitioners who offers guidance on a healthy lifestyle and smoking cessation. The programme then signposts the patients back to their GP practices should they wish for any help in these areas. These men are kept under regular ultrasound surveillance. Men whose aneurysm measures 5.5cm and upwards are referred to a vascular surgeon able to offer aneurysm treatment including a less invasive endovascular repair. 

The AAA screening programme is actively improving the delivery of vascular services, specifically the local outcomes for elective aneurysm surgery and the provision of 24/7 specialist emergency vascular services. 

Mr Marcus Brooks, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon at UH Bristol, and Clinical Director for the local AAA screening programme, said:  "The screening test is a simple non-invasive ultrasound scan, similar to that offered to women in pregnancy, it only takes around 10 minutes and you receive your result straight away. I would urge all men aged 65 and over in our area to consider seriously the offer of screening, even more so if they are in a high risk group."

The risk of having an AAA is higher if you:

  • Smoke or have ever smoked
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have a close relative (parent or sibling) who has had an AAA 

The NHS AAA Screening Programme is part of Public Health England, the expert national body that aims to protect and improve the nation's health.