Despite popular opinion, cancer services have been maintained throughout the pandemic. While cancer patients might have heard services had stopped in other countries, there was no clampdown in Ireland. Cancer care has been protected from day one and people have continued to have chemotherapy and radiation.
Some treatments have been postponed for a few weeks but very much on a case by case basis. However, as medical professionals, we are very concerned that people have stopped coming to treatment appointments as the new fear of Covid-19 trumped their other health concerns. The Irish Tines recently reported that even patients who have a critical diagnosis of cancer, especially in the over 70s group that are cocooning, and are loath to come to appointments. They are nervous about coming into hospitals in case they pick up the infection. To a certain extent they are turning down the opportunity to pursue their treatment. We can assure patients, that hospitals are taking all precautions to protect immune suppressed patients and can assure you that it is safe and essential to follow up with treatment.
There are categories of patients whose treatment has been deferred, based on international guidance. These include benign patients, who are safe to leave for a few weeks, and other low-risk patients. Cases are being regularly reviewed and each doctor can prioritise any patient who they feel should start treatment.
We urge patients with a cancer diagnosis to keep in touch with their GP and make sure they attend for scheduled appointments for treatment. Health professionals are working hard to ensure that the care environment is as safe as possible and we are concerned that lives may be unnecessarily being lost due to lack of treatment through fear of COVID-19.
We are also particularly concerned about the long-term impact from the cessation of cancer screening services and we are actively lobbying the government to resume screening as soon as possible.
If you are a cancer patient, or are concerned about your cancer treatment, please reach out to us to discuss in confidence and we can offer you the best advice. Don’t ignore cancer please!
Dr Sarah Keaveney