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John Wal. Photograph by John Kelly

Concerns grow over health impact of Covid restrictions

CALLS for the fast-tracking of medical procedures, deferred because of Covid-19, are gathering momentum, as a leading Clare cancer campaigner described the situation as “incredibly concerning”.

Quin resident John Wall, who has terminal prostate cancer, said the postponing of elective procedures, as well as the suspension of the national breast and cervical cancer screening programmes, needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“The government nationalised public hospitals, in good faith, because of the potential overflow that was envisaged because of a potential peak in Coronavirus,” he said. “Thankfully, that surge hasn’t materialised. However, we now find ourselves in the position that the vast majority of public beds are lying empty, elective procedures have been cancelled. We’re reopening the country, but we have no definitive plan yet to move forward on this. Ultimately, we all want universal healthcare. I pay for private health insurance, I would prefer not [to have] to. I would prefer to place my faith in a public system, but I couldn’t in my own case. Had I not gone and used the private system as well, I have been told that I’d either be pushing daisies or be in palliative care.”

This week, figures were released showing that no mammograms were carried out by BreastCheck in April this year, compared to 13,763 in the same month last year. CervicalCheck labs received 937 samples for analysis in April this year, compared to 21,037 in April 2019. Both programmes were paused in March. Dr Michael Harty said that he has had to explain the situation to patients. He noted that GPs are smear-takers, rather than organisers of the screening programme. “We are moving to a new system of HPV testing and CervicalCheck had planned a short suspension to allow for training,” he outlined. “Unfortunately, this coincided with Covid-19. I would think that CervicalCheck should be able to get up and running soon. BreastCheck happens at screening centres and it is imperative that it would also resume soon. Those are decisions for the Department of Health and the HSE.” Dr Harty also urged anyone experiencing symptoms to contact their GP: “Screening is there to detect cancers before symptoms appear. Anyone with symptoms will be seen by their GP and referred for the relevant follow-on treatment and it’s vitally important that people come forward.”

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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