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150,000 fewer people attended cancer screening services in first half of 2020

Experts have warned that a lack of consultants and healthcare capacity will leave many patients waiting months to see a specialist.

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Almost 150,000 fewer people attended vital cancer screening services in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)

Almost 150,000 fewer people attended vital cancer screening services in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)

Almost 150,000 fewer people attended vital cancer screening services in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)

Almost 150,000 fewer people attended vital cancer screening services in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic.

New data shows that in national screening programmes such as BowelScreen, CervicalCheck and BreastCheck, some 248,223 people were screened between January and June 2019.

But that figure dropped to 99,286 people in the first six months of this year because of the lack of non-coronavirus care available.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned that a lack of consultants and capacity in healthcare services will leave many patients waiting months to see a specialist.

In particular, it highlighted cancer-related endoscopy services where, of over 2,400 people on the waiting list, almost a quarter (24%) have been waiting more than three months.

The number of people waiting for an inpatient gastrointestinal endoscopy has increased by 12,400 since last year.

As patients who require an urgent colonoscopy should be seen within 28 days under best practice, there were warnings that long waiting lists pose a risk of them developing cancer.

The ICHA said urgent recruitment of 73 consultant oncologists over the next eight years is needed to tackle waiting lists and future demand.

It’s well known systemically that we have tremendous waiting list problems in Ireland.Professor John Crown

Professor John Crown, an oncologist at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Dublin, said that Ireland’s health system is “already creaking at the seams and is in real danger of being in real trouble”.

He said that access to consultant appointments, scans and testing equipment to monitor cancer treatment progression were key barriers that many patients face.

In particular, Prof Crown highlighted the issue of capacity which he said was “greater in magnitude” in Ireland than in other countries.

“There is a very high level of apprehension about what it is going to be like to be a patient or a healthcare worker in the hospital system in Ireland over the next six months,” he said.

“It’s well known systemically that we have tremendous waiting list problems in Ireland.

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“I saw a lady recently who had a pain problem… and the waiting time (to see a pain specialist) was three and a half years.

“I’m thinking, good lord, could you imagine somebody having pain that is so severe that it requires the input of a pain specialist? And thinking that it is remotely normal to say that the person can wait three and a half years to be seen?”

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