Fears Covid focus may cost lives of cancer patients

CONCERN is growing that Fermanagh patients are missing out on crucial
tests that could catch serious diseases before they become life-threatening, due to the Covid backlog.
Over recent weeks a number of local GPs have told the Herald they are
worried about the growing delays facing patients awaiting diagnostic tests and investigations, after many procedures were cancelled during the lockdown to allow the local health service to concentrate on battling the virus.
This could lead to some conditions not being detected until it’s ‘too late’ for treatment. For example, bowel tests offered to over-60s to screen for potential problems were stopped during the lockdown, while there is a growing backlog of patients awaiting colonoscopies.
Ederney GP Dr Brendan O’Hare, pictured left, said this could have serious consequences for potential cancer patients.
“There is an entirely unacceptable delay in the colonoscopies,” he said. “So someone who six months ago may have had an early tumour, entirely curable when they were diagnosed, may well have progressed through chemotherapy or other treatment missed that opportunity to be cured.
“That is a source of real concern.”
When contacted by the Herald, Western Trust said it was “committed to rebuilding services as quickly as possible, while continuing to protect our patients and staff from Covid-19.” Director of acute services, Geraldine McKay, apologised to the patients experiencing long waiting times.
“The scale of the challenges we face must not be underestimated,” she said.
“Normal business will not be possible for the foreseeable future.
Social distancing restrictions mean our capacity to provide appointments, diagnostic tests, operations and a wide range of other services will be significantly constrained, therefore this may impact further on waiting time.”
Ms McKay said the Trust needed to remain prepared for a potential second surge of Covid, which could coincide with winter pressures, so all services could not return to the way they had been before.
Recognising that this will result in a backlog of appointments, which had built up during the “pause”, she said the Trust was continuing to prioritise and focus on those patients assessed as most urgent and “as a result some patients and service users who have been referred as routine will wait longer for their assessment, contact or intervention than we would like.”

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