Health service managers were due to hold crisis talks this week after breast screening services in one of England's most sparsely populated counties collapsed.

Routine breast screening has been suspended across Cumbria to enable staff to catch up on a year-long backlog of abnormal result assessments.

North Cumbria health authority chief executive Robin MacLeod said the service was 'a victim of a national shortage of suitably qualified radiologists'.

He said breast screening had been under-staffed in Cumbria for several years and faced logistical difficulties because of the area's geography. The retirement of the consultant in Barrow-in-Furness at the end of April would make the service unviable.

North Cumbria HA has commissioned county-wide breast screening services based on hospitals in Whitehaven and Barrow-in-Furness. Morecambe Bay HA plans to start its own breast screening service in December, with sites at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancaster and Kendal.

But North Cumbria HA wants to re-establish a county-wide service from June. This would use the existing radiologist in Whitehaven and two Carlisle- based doctors who would need retraining. They would cover the north of the county.

The plan would also rely on Morecambe Bay HA appointing another radiologist to cover south Cumbria from June onwards.