One million missed breast cancer screenings – what now?

The true impact of Covid-19 on the UK healthcare system was unveiled by a troubling wave of cancellations. Operations, routine tests, MRI scans and breast cancer screenings have been pushed back as NHS resources are channelled into tackling the pandemic.

 

This year, Wear it Pink Day for breast cancer awareness is on Friday 23rd October. People around the country will be taking part in various activities to increase awareness and raise money for the charity Breast Cancer Now to fund research and care.

 

The impact of Covid-19

Raising awareness for any form of cancer is of prime importance and it has certainly worked in terms of breast cancer. Many women now regularly check themselves, report any problems to their GPs and attend mammograms if required. Workplaces, public washrooms and a host of other venues now display awareness posters on how to check for symptoms. However, the advent of Covid-19 is now preventing these measures and breast cancer screenings are being severely delayed or cancelled.

 

Somewhat alarming statistics show that our nation in general are reticent to come forward for any form of cancer checks. Numbers are down and referrals are far less. The number of those coming forward to specialist referrals is down by 15%. There was, fortunately, a surge of people after the first wave of Coronavirus but this will potentially slow down again due to the severity of the second wave.

 

Some of the statistics do represent a ‘fear factor’, with patients not wishing to enter a hospital environment when Covid-19 was rife around March through to July, and some were concerned about bothering their GPs.

 

Pressure on the NHS

There is further concern that the disruption of cancer screening services and the lack of up to date facilities (quite a few diagnostic machines are suffering from ‘old age’) is causing a large backlog of patients. This makes it harder for the NHS to ensure diagnosis and treatment before the disease becomes far more serious than if it had been caught earlier.

 

Non-urgent cancer screenings have been somewhat suspended, as have operations, with merely a trickle of the normal number of patients being scanned daily. Breast Cancer Now reports that around 1 million women have missed out on breast cancer screenings since Covid-19 began in the UK. The organisation anticipates that around 8,600 of the women caught up in this backlog could be living with undetected breast cancer.

 

While the breast cancer screenings programme is slowly starting up again, availability of appointments has been significantly reduced due to a number of reasons:

-Need for social distancing
-Length of time for cleaning and sanitation between appointments
-A huge backlog of patients
-Availability of imaging and diagnostic workforce, already overstretched

 

This situation has been compounded by a failure in logistics at one of the key providers’ warehouses. Consequently, thousands of patients could miss out on vital blood tests and screening, caused by the breakdown in the supply chain to the NHS. One must ask the question – how much more pressure can the UK and NHS take?

 

Raise awareness

Breast cancer shows no mercy to any age group (even though specific age groups, historical hereditary and certain lifestyles are more vulnerable). Women can help the system by knowing the symptoms and self-checking any changes in their breasts. It is essential to report any concerns to their GP. Our GP survey found that missed cancer diagnoses and care was one of their biggest concerns: they want to help. Whilst face to face appointments are still on a reduced basis, GPs will make exceptions for any cancer related symptoms.

 

‘Wear it pink’ this Friday, participate in fundraising and help raise awareness. It could make a real difference.

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