Nearly 400,000 fewer people were scanned for breast, cervical, and bowel cancers and diabetic retinopathy last year due to the impact Covid-19 has had on National Screening Services.
That's according to new figures from the Irish Patients’ Association Ireland (IPA) who say more than 1,000 people are now likely to face delayed cancer diagnosis.
Some 350,500 fewer people were screened for cancer at National Screening Services (NSS) in 2020 when compared to 2019.
Just over 56,000 women had a mammogram last year compared to more than 170,000 in 2019, while some 150,400 women had a CervicalCheck screening in 2020 compared to around 313,800 in 2019, declines of 67.1% and 51.7% respectively.
Around 73,400 fewer people had a BowelCheck screening this year.
Just under 47,000 people missed out on the Diabetic Retina screening this year when compared to 2019, which screens patients with diabetes who are at risk of developing sight loss due to retinopathy.
In addition to the almost 800,000 public patients on various hospital waiting lists throughout the country, the figures mean that some 1.2 million people are now waiting for treatment, assessments and scans, the IPA said.
Of the 397,234 scans that did not happen in 2020, the IPA says their analysis suggests that for breast, cervical, bowel and retina scanning some 50,660 people should have been called in for further examinations which would have identified developing issues.
Based on these recalls, and previous NSS reports, the IPA say more than 1,000 people will face delayed cancer diagnosis.
“This situation will be exasperated insofar as the back log scans are urgently required as well as 2021 normal demand,” the IPA added.
"Since we received this information from the National Screening service Monday evening, some of their leadership have since been out in the media explaining some of the challenges they face and encouraging uptake by those who are offered scans and we wholeheartedly support this. In particular, anyone who has any symptoms should present to their GP and NOT wait for a screening invitation or appointment."
Stephen McMahon of the IPA said the organisation is once again calling on the Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly and the Government to set up “a NPHET type committee for the management of non-Covid care.”
“So we can be prepared to take coordinated control of these waiting lists, to save lives and improve the quality of patients’ lives.”
Commenting on today's figures, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said while screening services have had to operate a reduced capacity recently the situation is "carefully monitored."
"It is very important the public also understands that screening is for well people who do not have symptoms."
"Anyone who is worried about symptoms at any time is advised not to wait for screening but to contact their GP immediately, for appropriate follow-up care," he said.