Cancer charity warns that treatment backlog in Northern Ireland could grow at alarming rate due to Covid-19 disruption
A CANCER charity has warned that the treatment backlog in Northern Ireland could grow by around 175 people a month amid disruption caused by Covid-19.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the number of people in the north starting their first treatment in June was 20 per cent behind 2019 levels, according to new analysis.
It warned that for each month the number of people starting first treatment remains at 20 per cent or below pre-pandemic levels, the backlog could grow by around 175 people.
The charity also warned that there was an estimated 1,000 fewer cancer diagnoses between March and July this year, creating a significant backlog of patients who are not yet in the system but need to be.
A new report by the charity The Forgotten ‘C’?: The Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer Care, details the devastating impact of the backlog in diagnosis and care during the first wave of the pandemic across the UK caused by the cancellation and delays of vital appointments, surgeries and treatments, alongside the reduction in people presenting with signs and symptoms.
Macmillan is now calling on Health Minister Robin Swann to prevent the backlog from increasing further by committing to ring-fenced cancer services in light of a surge in Covid-19 cases.
This includes no redeployment of staff, no delays to scans, surgery or treatment, and no pausing of screening programmes.
Kate Seymour, Head of Policy for Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland said it is "unacceptable that people across Northern Ireland are facing unprecedented delays?which could significantly affect their chances of survival.
"Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid-19 and neither can our health service," she said.
"Macmillan is doing whatever it takes to support people with cancer and our exhausted health service staff , but we need more."
Ms Seymour called on Mr Swann to make a "firm commitment that lessons have been learned from the first stage of the pandemic.
"As Covid-19 continues to surge, everything possible must be done to ensure that cancer services are ring-fenced and people have access to the care they need, when they need it," she said.
Dr Yvonne McGivern, a GP based in Dromara, who is also Macmillan's Primary Care Director for the NI Cancer Network, urged people to come forward if they regularly experienced any unexplained symptoms such as coughing up blood, persistent cough, passing blood, a persistent change in bowel habit or a lump anywhere on their body.
"It’s a worrying time for everyone and we understand that people are fearful about contracting Covid-19," she said.
"I know of people being reluctant to attend hospital appointments. Some people haven’t been returning samples such as bowel samples for testing. People are putting their health concerns on hold. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment."