Limerick campaigners fear that screening delays will cost lives

Vicky Phelan Photo: Oisin McHugh True Media

CONCERNS have been raised that the shut-down of routine testing programmes such as breast check is putting Limerick lives on the line.

Health campaigner Vicky Phelan said this week that hundreds of lives could be lost unless national screening programmes are rebooted.

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“I understand why certain services had to be stopped due to the pandemic but it’s very worrying that people are still being denied cancer screening,” she said.

“With cervical cancer, patients have to get their pre-cancer cells lasered off every time they go to hospital. But if they are not being seen, there is a real danger these pre-cancer cells will develop into full-blown cancer.”

Limerick Fianna Fáil Deputy Willie O’Dea told the Limerick Post that there needs to be a supercharging of cancer screening services not just in Limerick but across the country as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

“Last week in the Dáil we asked the Minister to deploy the full resources of the Government behind a national campaign, like the one being carried out at the moment in relation to Covid-19.

“Considerable resources, professionalism, talent and money have been brought to the public communications around the pandemic. 

“But we are staring down the barrel of a crisis in relation to cancer treatment.

Latest figures show that no mammograms were carried out in the month of April, while there was a 96 per cent decrease in the number of samples sent to CervicalCheck labs in that time.

“We are looking at the very real prospect of more people dying of an additional cancer rate than die from Covid-19,” he declared.

In response to queries about screening services from the Limerick Post, a spokesman for the University of Limerick Hospitals Group said that the decision to suspend screening was taken at a national level.

“The colposcopy clinic at University Maternity Hospital Limerick remains open and continues to receive referrals outside of the screening programme. We look forward to increasing the service when screening recommences in line with physical distancing and other national guidance.”

He added that any patient who is concerned about symptoms such as breast lumps can still go to their GP and they will be referred if the GP feels that should happen.

In a statement on the national situation, the HSE said that the National Screening Service is developing separate roadmaps for the recommencement of the BreastCheck, BowelScreen, CervicalCheck and Diabetic RetinaScreen programmes.

“The restarting of screening will be based on HSE and Department of Health guidance on Covid-19 .

“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.”