Donegal county councillor Gerry McMonagle says lives will be lost if we do not address the cancer screening and treatment backlog.
Cllr McMonagle, who is Vice Chairperson of the Regional Health Forum West, is calling on the Government to put in place proposals to tackle the concerning backlog across the State.
He is also is calling on government to make cancer care a priority by providing increased funding to enable cancer screening to operate at full capacity in a Covid environment as healthcare services head into the most challenging winter season in the history of the state.
Speaking this morning, Cllr Mc Monagle said “We know that early diagnosis and intervention saves lives. With missed screenings, delayed procedures and being in a high risk category, Covid-19 has hit cancer patients hard.
“Sinn Féin is calling on the government to now make cancer care a priority by providing increased funding to enable screening to operate at full capacity in a Covid environment, and to address the under-investment in care that has resulted in crucial targets being missed under the National Cancer Strategy.
“Even before the onset of this pandemic and the challenges it presented to our healthcare services, this state had the third highest rate of cancer in the world with more than 43,000 cancers diagnosed on an annual basis.
“The importance of catching cancer early is indisputable, but we are now dangerously behind in our cancer screening programme.
“Failure to address this with immediate effect will inevitably cost lives, as well as overloading a healthcare service that is already facing the most challenging winter season in the history of the state.”
He added that the figures are stark with fewer than 100,000 people were screened in the first half of this year compared to 500,000 in all of 2019.
The National Screening Service says they are ‘unable to screen people at the same numbers’ as they did pre-Covid-19.
He added “Medical oncology services are operating at about 70 per cent, with cancer surgeons treating a much-reduced number of patients than usual.
“Even before Covid-19, crucial targets in the National Cancer Strategy were missed relating to timely access to diagnostics, surgery, radiotherapy and screening.
“There have been significant delays in cancer screening at Cervical Check, Breast Check and Bowel Screen with the phased resumption of services varying depending on the screening programme and capacity.
“The postponement of screening and lack of clarity is causing additional anxiety for patients and their families, while contributing to growing waiting lists for cancer tests and treatment.
“What we need is an immediate review of the National Cancer Strategy to address capacity deficiencies and to lay out a timeline for catch-up on new and delayed cancer care with targets; the reversal of historic underinvestment in cancer care to meet targets set under the National Cancer Strategy and additional funding to be made available for capacity protection measures to deliver cancer care in a Covid-19 environment.”