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Chemotherapy treatment levels dropped 12% due to the pandemic last year

The Irish Medical Organisation has said that a public health campaign should be funded to raise awareness of cancer symptoms and to encourage people to go to a GP to get checked.

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CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENTS DROPPED by 12% last year due to the pandemic, the Oireachtas Health Committee heard today.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said that cancer services could be impacted for years to come because of the pandemic.

The organisation told the Health Committee that rapid access clinics for prostate cancer saw referrals halve during March and April 2020.

Referrals for breast and lung cancer fell by a third in that time.

Dr Clive Kilgallon of the IMO said that while referrals have recovered, they are still significantly below 2019 levels, particularly for lung and prostate cancer.

He said that in September 2020 only 60% of new patients attending rapid access breast, lung and prostate clinics were seen within the recommended time frame.

More recent figures show that, for the first three months of 2021, 450 people per month were not seen in the recommended four weeks for an urgent colonoscopy.

Speaking on behalf of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Seán Crowe TD said: “The Committee heard worrying evidence today that people who are experiencing symptoms of cancer are delaying seeking medical advice due to the pandemic. It is vitally important that anyone who is having symptoms or is concerned about cancer in any way contact their GP without delay.”

“The earlier that cancer is detected the better the outcome. GPs are open and are seeing patients, and they can refer individuals for the appropriate diagnostic services if required”, he said.

In addition to the drop in chemotherapy services, radiation therapy was down 10% from last year, and urgent cancer surgeries fell by 24%. Some of this decline may have been offset by surgeries carried out in private hospitals, the IMO said.

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There were also 33.8% fewer elective cancer admissions than in 2019.

Dr Denis McCauley from the IMO said that investing in a national public health campaign to help people identify cancer symptoms and encourage them to go to their GP could help tackle the problem.

He also called for an increase in the number of consultants, as one in five such posts are currently not filled or are filled on a temporary basis.

The IMO is also calling for an increase in capacity “across the system”, including staffed theatre space and more ICU, inpatient and day care beds.

It is also asking for an investment in secure IT systems.

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