The Chief Clinical Officer with the Health Service Executive has said the backlog of cervical cancer screening tests by will be cleared by spring of next year.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Dr Colm Henry said the HSE is confident the people whose appointments were paused during the lockdown will be picked up by the end of October or November this year.

He said they are planning to reopen BreastCheck either later this month or next month, following the resumption of CervicalCheck in July and BowelCheck in August.

Dr Henry said each cancer screening programme is different.

He said the CervicalCheck, is now the HPV screening test, which is considerably more sensitive than the original CervicalCheck and the HSE is hopeful that will produce a more efficient screening programme.

Dr Henry said when it resumed in July, the HSE prioritised those who were already on recall.

He said anyone who has symptoms of either breast, bowel or cervical cancer should contact their GP or medical practitioner.

Dr Henry said cancer treatment programmes were never paused and the rapid access clinics continued to operate.


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However, he said one of the things that caused the HSE concern was "the marked drop off of attendances of people coming to rapid access clinics" and he said clearly the impact of Covid-19 impacted on whether or not people felt it was safe to attend.

Dr Henry said cancer services have been reconfigured because of Covid-19 guidelines and in some cases the pathway is slower, but they are confident as they rebuild the screening services, that they have a dependent service, which will allow no bottlenecks in that screening pathway right through to diagnosis of treatment.

Earlier, Sinn Féin health's spokesperson called for an urgent plan to catch up on missing cancer screening and treatment services, saying additional funding is needed immediately to ensure the screening and cancer test backlogs are cleared quickly.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, David Cullinane said because of infection control guidelines and social distancing, the National Screening Service will be unable to screen people at the same numbers they did prior to Covid-19.

He said the Irish Cancer Society had called for further investment in treatment and screening services.

Mr Cullinane said each of the cancer settings need to be looked at to see what capacity they have and what extra capacity they need.

According to figures from the National Screening Service, Mr Cullinane said in 2019, 206,315 people were screened for CervicalCheck compared to 39,000 for the first six months of this year.

He said 122,724 people were screened for BowelCheck in 2019, compared to 21,821 for the first six months of 2020 and last year 170,000 people were screened as part of BreastCheck, down to 38,000 for the first three months of this year.

The CervicalCheck screening service resumed in July, bowel screening resumed at the beginning of August, but BreastCheck has yet to resume and is expected to later this month or next month.

Mr Cullinane said there is a sense that the services may be able to catch up on cervical screening, but it is less clear in relation to the BreastCheck and BowelCheck programmes.

He said women will be invited for screening in September or October, and there are about 100,000 women who will need invitations for screening, but they will prioritise those most in need.

He said there is also a need to address the backlog in cancer treatment services, which is down about 30% capacity on last year.

Professor John Crown, Consultant Oncologist at St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, has said his great fear coming into the winter is that the services they need for people who might notice a breast lump or bleeding in their bowel movement is that they will be able to access diagnostic systems quickly.

Speaking on the same programme, he said while cancer screening has to be there as well "we can't lose sight of the necessity for making sure we've got a smooth progress for patients who are actually symptomatic and who have a higher chance of having an illness getting into the system".

He said there is no doubt that patients were having difficulty accessing the system this spring, as many clinics were cancelled and other clinicians were rightfully transferred to care for patients with Covid-19.

He said he has "grave fears that a system which under non-pandemic times has very little give in it ... is going to find itself facing quite a few problems when we get the whammy of increased Covid cases" on top of the normal winter demands and changing practices.