Plans are under way to restart screening services next month, but it could take until October to clear the backlog of suspended tests, the Health Service Executive has said.
Letters will be sent to priority groups on July 6 with the resumption of CervicalCheck tests expected to take place the following week.
Dr Colm Henry, the HSE chief clinical officer, said that screening will involve the new HPV tests.
Dr Henry told the HSE briefing in Dublin that the reintroduction of cancer screening services will be done in a phased and incremental way.
“It will take time to recover those levels of activity they had before and to clear those cases that were suspended in March,” he added.
“In regards cervical screening, letters will be going out on July 6 to patients advising them for screening for HPV tests that were due to launch until Covid came in the way.
“They will be starting with priority groups, one year recalls and new participants to the screening programme.
“It will take some time to clear, we are not going through them chronologically, we are beginning with priority groups. We expect to clear all those who were suspended by October.
“It will take several months to get through those cases.”
He said that breast screening services were complicated because people had to attend a congregated setting, however a number of screening services would be carried out in repurposed vans.
HSE boss Paul Reid said that their winter planning process will be carried out during a time of unprecedented and heightened level of “uncertainty and unpredictability”.
“First of all we have to manage our capacity to protect for a second surge and that’s been important. We have to manage social distancing across our healthcare settings in a way that’s more important than many other sectors would have to,” Mr Reid added.
People attending hospital for elective surgery will have to isolate for 14 days and undergo a test for Covid-19 72 hours prior to their surgery.
He said the average number of close contacts of Covid-19 positive cases is 4.6 people.
Mr Reid said this has risen “marginally” over the last few weeks.
“We have been hovering around two and then three but it’s hovering about 4.6 now,” he added.
The HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said that said there has been a “significant and marked” increase in the use of virtual and telehealth.
Dr O’Connor said that the health service can no longer go back to the days of outpatients sitting in busy waiting rooms.
All staff in hospitals must lead by example. When not treating patients please practice physical distancing at meetings, in the coffee shop and on ward rounds. #HoldFirm🌈 #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/Xj6BaonNGq— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) June 24, 2020
“We need to look at a way of delivering outpatient services in a way that is safe for people attending and for staff and ensure we can meet people’s needs,” she added.
“We are looking at how we can further develop telehealth and can deliver these services in different ways.”
The HSE also hope to launch its contact tracing app next week following approval from Cabinet
Earlier: Cervical cancer screening to resume from July
Cervical cancer screening will resume in the second week of July.
The HSE has confirmed women identified as a priority for CervicalCheck screening will start receiving letters for an appointment from July 6.
The executive expects the backlog, built up since the programme was halted in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to be cleared by October.
The HSE said they are “restarting with people who need an early test” because they:
- are due an early repeat screening test - a one-year recall
- need a repeat test because their last sample could not be tested - a three-month recall
- have this year become eligible for their first cervical screening test
The HSE added: “We are contacting people who are on a yearly recall first. They have been waiting longer for their screening appointment.
“Being on a yearly recall does not mean you have cancer. It may be because you have another medical condition, so you need extra monitoring.”
BreastCheck and bowel screening will not be back up and running until September.