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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 November 2007, 06:02 GMT
Renewed push for artery screening
By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News

Aortic aneurysm
Aortic aneurysm can be fatal
Campaigners are stepping up pressure on health ministers to begin a new screening programme in the UK.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, which causes one of the body's main blood vessels to weaken and burst, is the third most common cause of death for older men.

Few outside the medical profession are aware of the condition, but the Vascular Society is calling for men in their mid 60s to be screened for it.

All four UK health departments are considering the matter at the moment.

Campaigners say that checking whether men have a risk of a burst blood vessel in their stomach would cost half the price of the breast cancer screening programme - and would save as many lives - at least 3,000 a year.

The abdominal aorta carries blood to the intestines and other organs nearby.

Aneurysms, which mean the arteries weaken, are common in this part of the body. It is catastrophic when they burst, with most patients dying before they can get to emergency care.

At Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in London, doctors are impatient to get on with screening, and are about to begin their own programme.

A vascular surgeon, Matthew Waltham, applied to Guy's and St Thomas' Charity to get a three-year grant for screening. He expects to see about 40 patients a week from two boroughs in south London.

He said: "Screening is relatively simple. All that is involved is a straightforward ultrasound scan.

"We hope this pilot service will increase detection and early treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysms to help save lives and reduce the burden on hospital time and resources."

The Vascular Society, which represents specialists in this area, wants to see such schemes offered everywhere.

The society's honorary secretary, Jonothan Earnshaw, works in Gloucestershire where a screening programme has been running since 1990. He accused ministers of unnecessary delays in implementing a full screening programme.

Mr Earnshaw said: "Ruptured aneurysm is a common and deeply painful way to die.

"UK patients have been left waiting for this. AAA screening has been recommended by the independent National Screening Committee, but the Department of Health are dragging their feet on implementation."

A Department of Health spokesman responded: "We fully appreciate the serious nature of this condition.

"Work is in progress to assess the implications of implementing AAA screening in England.

"This assessment has to take account of the likely impact on existing healthcare services and the infrastructure and staffing requirements for a programme."

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