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Worrying toll Years before hidden harm of Covid may come to light, doctors warn

"We won't have the full picture for a number of years," one GP said.


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The hidden harm of the pandemic on many thousands of patients with a range of non-Covid conditions may take years to fully emerge, doctors have warned.

The battles against heart disease, cancer and a range of serious illnesses have suffered during the country's unprecedented war against the virus.

There is a worrying toll of delayed diagnoses, missed appointments, backlogs of waiting lists as well as a slowdown in clinics due to infection control measures, particularly in the early part of the pandemic.

"We won't have the full picture for a number of years," GP Dr Denis McCauley said.

"If you had a heart attack and were not treated in time, you could have suffered heart damage."

The effects on more severe illness and death among many people who were not seen quickly enough will take time to show, the GP spokesman for the Irish Medical Organisation said.

Cardiologist Dr Angie Brown said heart and stroke patients are more vulnerable, suffering from a higher morbidity and mortality.

"This has meant our patients have been reluctant to attend the emergency department, so often symptoms of chest pain, breathlessness or transient weakness have been played down or ignored.

"In the initial stages of the pandemic, this resulted in fewer patients attending with heart attacks and strokes.

"So for some patients, when they do come to hospital, they are much sicker and some have missed the opportunity to receive life-saving treatment, leading to an increase in preventable death and disability."

To cope with the potential Covid-19 surge earlier this year, all non-essential services were cancelled or curtailed.

"The extent to which this may have caused an excess of deaths remains unclear, but undoubtedly the ongoing backlog of cases for proced- ures such as angiograms, angioplasties and coronary artery bypass graft surgeries will be associated with an ongoing risk of harm," said Dr Brown, the medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation.

"Many out-patient services have also been curtailed, so patients haven't had their very necessary reviews."

A survey carried out by the Irish Thoracic Society shows the majority of respiratory consultants in the Republic and the North said waiting lists for routine care have soared since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The number of people waiting to see a respiratory consultant has jumped to more than 21,000 - an increase of 7pc compared with figures at the start of the pandemic.

Dr Aidan O'Brien, a respiratory physician and president of the society, said the legacy of suspending diagnostic and treatment services will be felt for years to come.

Dublin respiratory consult- ant Dr Marcus Butler revealed that "with the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the many regrettable outcomes is that I am seeing some patients with lung cancer whom I would normally have seen much, much sooner.

"Unfortunately, with a disease like lung cancer it is a very time-sensitive condition, so any time lag can significantly limit the types of interventions we can make, which is hugely distressing for patients and their families."

He said his own waiting list "has increased by well over six months".

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