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covid disruption Patients travelling from Republic to North for cancer diagnosis during pandemic

Dr Denis McCauley, GP spokesman for the Irish Medical Organisation said he knew of some symptomatic cancer patients who had to travel across the Border for initial assessment.

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Some patients who needed a diagnosis to find out if they have cancer had to go to hospitals in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, a leading GP has revealed.

Dr Denis McCauley, GP spokesman for the Irish Medical Organisation said he knew of some symptomatic cancer patients who had to travel across the Border for initial assessment.

“In the first nine months, the HSE was seeing much less patients than they normally would. That means cases were being diagnosed three to four months later than they would normally be,” he added.

He was speaking as Prof Risteard O Laoide, the HSE’s head of cancer control, said up to 2,000 people with cancer may have been missed due to disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A fall in referrals and a drop of attendances at the HSE’s breast, lung and prostate cancer clinics earlier in the pandemic may have led to 371 instances of lost cancers, he said. Attendances have since recovered.

Dr McCauley said: “It goes without saying the earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed the better. The later it is diagnosed the bigger it may be and have a higher risk of spreading .

He added: “This will have an impact on the prognosis of certain cancers.

“There was a general paralysis in some parts of the health service in the early stage of the pandemic and GPs were banging on the door but nobody was listening .”

It comes as figures obtained from the HSE by Aontu leader Peadar Toibin showed the number of attendances at clinics by patients with suspected breast or prostate cancer fell by more than 11,000 in the first nine months of the year- raising fears of delayed diagnosis.

New figures reveal that between January and September attendances at symptomatic breast cancer rapid access clinics dropped from 32,310 in 2019 to 21,889 this year as the country battled Covid-19.

Attendances at rapid access prostate clinics over the same period went down from 2,962 in 2019 to 1,983 in 2020.

Over the same nine months the number of patients referred to the symptomatic breast cancer clinics by GPs rose to 27,658 this year compared to 26,001 in 2019.

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Referrals to the prostate clinics reduced from 2,557 to 2,316.

Dr McCauley said it would appear that family doctors were seeing much the same level of symptomatic patients and they were being referred to the clinics .

“It could be patients were given appointment and did not attend but it is more likely they were not invited for appointments, “ he added because of the curtailment in services due to Covid-19

Deputy Toibin, who was himself diagnosed with skin cancer in recent months said: “We are all aware of the hundreds of thousands of women currently stuck in a backlog for cancer screening, but the statistics released to me show a backlog for symptomatic patients also, which is extremely alarming.

“The Minister for Health has told me that funds have been allocated to restore cancer services to 95pc of 2019’s capacity for 2021. However, 95pc capacity is not good enough, especially in light of the backlogs currently being experienced.

He added: “Ninety-five per cent capacity will not be enough to swiftly clear these backlogs, and I would worry that cancer patients might die as a result of this.

“Given my own battle with cancer, I am acutely aware of the urgency required in the treatment of the disease.”


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