A CAMPAIGNING Cork dad is calling for the publication of a plan for the resumption of cancer screening services which have been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The CervicalCheck, BreastCheck, and BowelScreen programmes have been paused since March on public health advice arising from the COVID-19 outbreak and as yet, there is no firm date on when these will be resumed.
This means, significant numbers of people who would have been routinely screened for cancers through these programmes have not been invited for screening.
According to the HSE, staff have been temporarily redeployed into symptomatic services where possible and some staff have also been redeployed to support the response to COVID-19.
Cork advocate Stephen Teap, who lost his wife to cervical cancer, said that while everyone understands why the programmes had to be paused, months had now gone by since they were halted.
“These were paused without a plan on how they would be reintroduced and a timeframe for this.
“What I want to see happen now is a discussion starting with a plan on how they will be started,” he said.
Mr Teap said a number of questions needed to be answered around how screening services will restart, who is involved, and when it will happen. “It needs to be as soon as possible. We need to see a plan. Cancer is not going to be paused,” he added.
Mr Teap said discussions are also needed around the capacity of clinics such as those which provide colposcopy, which may see an increase in referrals once the screening programme resumes.
The Irish Cancer Society has also called for a plan for resuming screening services to be outlined urgently.
“As work begins to restart our health system we must now see a detailed roadmap for the safe return of screening programmes,” the organisation said in a statement.
It is reminding people that if they suspect they are displaying a sign or a symptom of cancer it is important that they contact a GP.
“In hospitals around the country cancer diagnoses are still being made daily. We have also been assured that urgent care is available. It is very important that people do not ignore a worrying symptom and seek medical help without delay,’ it said.
In a statement, the Health Service Executive said that the National Screening Service is developing separate roadmaps for the recommencement of the cancer screening programmes and its Diabetic RetinaScreen programme. “The restarting of screening will be based on HSE and Department of Health guidance on COVID-19 as measures to prevent COVID-19 are amended by Government. The health, wellbeing and safety of our clients continue to be our top priority at this time,” it said.
The HSE statement said that BreastCheck’s static units continue to operate daily clinics for the large number of women who are presenting within the hospital system with symptoms of breast cancer.
“BreastCheck is helping the hospitals work through their waiting lists of women with symptoms who have not yet been seen due to the national emergency with COVID-19. We are prioritising these urgent / high-risk cases,” it said.
The HSE said that while BowelScreen has paused inviting people to send back their FIT kits for analysis, it is identifying patients who have been referred for surgery and/or surgical opinion. “Each patient is being contacted to offer support and a programme contact number,” it said.
The statement said that CervicalCheck has paused sending invitations and reminder letters for cervical screening.
“This pause is for community testing (GPs and clinics) and not for patients already referred to or in the process of being managed within the colposcopy system. These patients will continue to be cared for as hospital resources allow. Colposcopy units are prioritising their work in line with clinical need and staffing availability,” it added.
“People who are in-between screening appointments, or waiting rescheduled appointments, should continue to be aware of and act on any symptoms associated with the conditions being screened for. If they have any concerns about symptoms they should contact their GP immediately,” the statement said.