Fall in cancer referrals during pandemic

People urged to contact GP if they are concerned
  • Deborah Condon

People who are displaying any signs or symptoms of cancer are urged to telephone their GP to have them checked out.

The call comes from the HSE National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), which has pointed out that the number of patients being referred to cancer diagnostic services has fallen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The average number of patients with suspected breast, lung, prostate and skin cancer being referred to hospital clinics on a weekly basis has dropped to less than half of that prior to the announcement of COVID-19 public health measures. These are patients who are referred electronically by their GPs.

The NCCP said that it is very concerned about this as it suggests that people with symptoms of cancer are delaying seeking medical advice.

It emphasised that GP and hospital diagnostic cancer services continue to operate, and precautionary measures have been taken to ensure the hospital environment is safe for all patients.

The NCCP noted that there has been a slight increase in referrals over the last week, but it remains concerned that people with signs and symptoms of cancer are not contacting their GPs because they are fearful of attending health services.

According to Dr Una Kennedy, GP advisor with the NCCP, in the last four weeks, she has referred just one patient with concerning symptoms - a female with a lump in her breast.

"She was seen quickly at the hospital and discharged with the good news that all was well. Normally, I could expect to see at least one person per week with symptoms concerning for cancer.

"Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of patients contacting my practice has declined markedly. I've spoken with colleagues and many of them have noticed this too. It's very worrying," she commented.

She sais that the last thing GPs want is to see is a delayed diagnosis.

"People shouldn't be afraid to contact their GP because of COVID-19. If you have cancer, the sooner it's detected the better chance you have of a successful outcome," Dr Kennedy added.

Meanwhile, the NCCP's surgical advisor, Prof Arnie Hill, also appealed to people to contact their GP if they have concerns.

"My colleagues and I are continuing to work during this difficult time. We are checking patients with cancer symptoms in hospitals throughout Ireland. If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms that might be cancer, call your GP.

"Your GP will assess you and can make a referral for you to our services if needed. We are here, regardless of coronavirus, to take care of you," he insisted.

The NCCP pointed out that GPs can discuss your concerns over the phone, while some are using video conferencing facilities. GPs are also continuing to see patients that they need to in their practices.

The NCCP has made a video urging people to contact their GP if they have concerns. It can be viewed here.


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