Almost 400,000 fewer people scanned for cancers last year

Irish Patients’ Association raises concern over impact of Covid-19 on screening

Of the scans that did not happen, analysis from the IPA suggests that more than 50,000 people should have been called in for further examinations in relation to breast, cervical, bowel and retina scanning. File photograph: iStock

Of the scans that did not happen, analysis from the IPA suggests that more than 50,000 people should have been called in for further examinations in relation to breast, cervical, bowel and retina scanning. File photograph: iStock

 

Almost 400,000 fewer people were scanned for cancers and diabetic retinopathy last year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish Patients’ Association (IPA) has said.

The association said the virus has had “a major impact” on all non-Covid care since the first case was detected here on February 29th last year.

Elective operations and outpatient appointments have “soared way above the already high levels they were at the day before Covid-19”, it said.

The IPA said it had received detailed information from the National Screening Service in the past week, which showed 397,274 fewer people had scans for breast, cervical, and bowel cancers, as well as diabetic retina scans, in 2020 when compared with 2019.

Of the scans that did not happen, analysis from the association suggests that 50,660 people should have been called in for further examinations in relation to breast, cervical, bowel and retina scanning, which would have identified developing issues.

“Based on these recalls and using previous National Screening Service reports, approximately 1,017 delayed cancer diagnoses, and importantly treatment [have been delayed], which is a further cause of concern.”

Impending surge

The IPA said that over the past year it has “focused attention on the growing surge of unmet care that is building up, affecting patients’ quality of life, and [which may] indeed lead to premature death due to delayed access to care”.

It said that with almost 800,000 public patients on various hospital waiting lists, there are now 1.2 million people waiting for treatment, assessments and scans. “The management of this impending surge needs to be tightly managed,” it said.

“This situation will be exasperated insofar as the backlog scans are urgently required as well as 2021 normal demand.

“Covid has challenged the management and delivery of healthcare but it must not become its whipping boy.”

IPA director Stephen McMahon said the association was calling on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Government to set up a “Nphet-type committee” for the management of non-Covid care.

This, he said, would help the State “to take co-ordinated control of these waiting lists, to save lives and improve the quality of patients’ lives”.

“Change and reform in our healthcare systems should not be preceded by preventable funerals and injury to patients,” he added.