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QUB expert launches plan to tackle impact of Covid pandemic on cancer patients across Europe

QUB Professor Mark Lawler has warned of a cancer epidemic post-Covid unless urgent action is taken across Europe
Seanín Graham

A Queen's University Belfast professor has launched a plan to tackle the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer patients across Europe.

Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health, published the roadmap ahead of its unveiling at a European summit bringing together experts from the worlds of science, medicine and industry.

He is part of a dedicated network that also includes patients and specialist health professionals.

Prof Lawler, who is also scientific director for DATA-CAN, the UK's Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, warned that attention is needed not only to restore services but to build back "better and smarter" and prevent a "cancer epidemic" after a decade of progress.

During the first lockdown, red-flag referrals for suspected cancer patients in Northern Ireland dropped by 70 per cent while many treatments and diagnostic tests were "paused" as part of Covid planning.

While many services resumed, a significant backlog remains and the second coronavirus wave has led to the cancellation of multiple operations.

Prof Lawler said: "We now have concrete data that shows the life-threatening impact of Covid-19 on our European citizens, patients and services, with hundreds of thousands of cancer diagnoses being missed and cancer treatments being delayed or postponed. This could potentially result in many thousands of lives being lost across Europe as a result of this pandemic.

"We need to have accurate data in real time to best combat this crisis, otherwise we risk missing the vital intelligence that allows us to diagnose cancer earlier when treatment is more effective. The 7-Point Plan that we propose must be implemented.

"Otherwise, cancer will regrettably become the forgotten 'C' in the fight against Covid-19. If that happens, we seriously risk a cancer epidemic across Europe, undoing in less than 10 months the progress we have made in improving cancer outcomes in the last decade."

The plan's recommendations are being made to governments, the European Union and WHO Europe.

Margaret Grayson, chair of the NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum, welcomed the publication and said it was "critical" that patients' voices are heard and rapid action is taken to address their needs.

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