THE NUMBER of people screened for cancer in Donegal is down seventy per cent compared to last year, figures from the National Screening Service have revealed. The State’s three cancer screening programmes, BreastCheck, BowelScreen and CervicalCheck had to be suspended due to Covid-19. CervicalCheck recommenced screening at the beginning of July, BowelScreen resumed in August but BreastCheck has yet to get back up and running.
Figures provided to the Donegal News through a Freedom of Information request show that between January and September 4 there were 2,563 CervicalCheck screenings in Donegal compared to 7,130 screenings throughout 2019, down 64 per cent. There were 1,235 Bowel Screenings through home tests up to the start of September compared to 4,180 in 2019, down 70 per cent. The BreastCheck programme has been impacted the most with figures down 89 per cent. There has been just 415 BreastCheck screenings in Donegal up to September 4 compared to 3,966 last year. The HSE said these screenings are expected to resume this month.
Chair of Donegal Action for Cancer Care, Betty Holmes said the delays in getting the service back up and running is “scandalous”.
DACC have been repeatedly contacting the National Screening Service to emphasise the importance of not only getting the programmes back up and running but also increasing capacity to deal with the back logs.
Ms Holmes said: “DACC have very serious concerns and have been working on this for months. One of our concerns is that with delays in getting cancer screenings recommenced waiting lists are going to be longer and capacity has to be increased. If that means extending hours or employing extra staff during this difficult time then that is what has to happen. We were told that the BreastCheck screening would be back in September/October. We are now into the first week of October and we don’t have a date. We are asking again for a date on when the screenings will be back at Letterkenny and when women will start to get appointments.
“We have seen no activity at the BreastCheck unit in Letterkenny where we would have expected some preparations to be underway at this time. If the unit was to even have one lady per hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half then surely at least five ladies per day could still receive their mammogram. This would allow time for sanitising,” she suggested.
“As far as we are concerned we have seen no will or commitment to get the BreastCheck unit started. It has been a tiresome and long journey and we don’t see anything to give us comfort.”
Ms Holmes said she is not underestimating the concerns regarding Covid-19 but said other vital services are being put on the back burner because of the virus.
Responding to questions about screening in Donegal a spokesperson for the HSE said: “BowelScreen, BreastCheck and CervicalCheck were paused in March 2020, in line with public health advice, to protect participants and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the HSE temporarily redeployed staff and resources to the response to COVID-19. However, clinical staff continued to work within the programmes. Most of our staff have now returned from redeployment.
“In June, the National Screening Services (NSS) announced a planned phased restart of cancer screening programmes across all locations. CervicalCheck recommenced screening at the beginning of July. BowelScreen resumed in August. BreastCheck is expected to resume in October. As screening restarts, we are ensuring all parts of the system have sufficient capacity to process the volume of tests. We are taking safety measures to protect both patients and staff. This can mean that appointments may take longer and that it may also take longer to get an appointment. We will continue to follow public health guidelines. The health and safety of our patients and staff is our priority.
“NSS is working with host hospitals and service providers to maximise screening capacity within the constraints of COVID-19. As well as screening and laboratory facilities on an ongoing basis in order to minimise the impact of new processes and procedures. The NSS encourages people to take up their invitations to participate in screening when called. This will enable all appointment slots to be filled, test results to be returned in a timely manner, and any necessary follow-up treatment to be scheduled without delay.
“Anyone between screening appointments, or waiting for rescheduled appointments, is advised to be aware of any symptoms and contact their GP if they have concerns.”
Posted: 10:48 am October 6, 2020