What’s happening with cancer screening in on-going Covid-19 pandemic?

16th November 2020 Clinical Negligence

Having represented numerous patients who have experienced a very poor outcome due to a delay in diagnosis of cancer, I believe firmly in effective screening. The NHS runs three screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer and all have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many people may be concerned about what is happening with cancer screening, particularly if they have had cancer in the past or have a family history. As such I have put together an update on the state-of-play with screening so families know what to expect and what they can do to push things along.

It is important to note that screening is for healthy people, and so if you have any unusual symptoms that you are concerned about, that you have these checked out by a medical professional. Your GP still wants to hear from you if you have any worrying issues so please don’t delay seeking advice.

Breast cancer screening

Earlier this month, the Manchester Evening News published a story on ambulance worker Kellie Shiers who found out she had breast cancer by chance. Kellie had survived breast cancer five years ago and after a follow-up appointment in April was postponed due to Covid she only found out it had returned after she had a scan for an unrelated severe stomach issue. She is now undergoing treatment but it could have been a very different situation.

Breast cancer screening programmes were paused in March and although NHS trusts began to start sending appointments out again from July, many patients are waiting to be seen. Breast Cancer Now says 986,000 women have missed their mammograms and 8,600 may have had a cancer diagnosis missed as a result. Although breast cancer screening services are starting to return and appointments sent out, it would be advisable for any patients awaiting one to chase this up and ensure that it is being dealt with. Do not feel as though you are being a nuisance as breast cancer screening is absolutely critical to the early detection and treatment of this devastating disease.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel Cancer UK says the pause on screening has led to 1,350 bowel cancer cases being missed. In addition, 8,500 patients who had previously received a positive screening result are awaiting further diagnostics tests to confirm whether they have bowel cancer. Services have now restarted and testing kits are being posted out. Colonoscopies have also restarted for those requiring further investigations to confirm a diagnosis, however patients now face a longer wait. Please do contact the clinic to check you are on the waiting list as clerical errors with appointments do happen and, perhaps now more than ever before, this is a risk due to the volume of patients waiting.

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical cancer screening was not officially paused in England, but from March some NHS trusts stopped sending out invitations to make a screening appointment to women. Jo’s Trust says invitations are now being sent but there is a backlog of appointments.

JMW has represented several young women and their families who have suffered severe injuries due to delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer so we urge any women who think they are due cervical screening to contact their GP if they have not heard anything and push for an appointment. Colposcopy appointments, a further investigative procedure after an abnormal cervical smear, have also been postponed for some patients, putting them at risk of delayed diagnosis. However, the departments are functioning so again we would advise anyone who is awaiting a colposcopy to chase this up with their GP or the hospital as it may be that they have fallen through the cracks due to the high demand.

 

 

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Bryony Doyle is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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