By Integrated Care Journal-
Nearly one million women in the UK missed potentially lifesaving NHS breast screening due to Covid-19, say new warnings on the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast Cancer Now estimates that around 986,000 women missed their mammograms due to breast screening programmes being paused in March 2020 in a bid to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading and freeing up emergency resources for the NHS.
The charity anticipates that around 8,600 of the women caught up in this backlog could have been living with undetected breast cancer. Halting services reduced the chances of catching cancer early, leading to delayed diagnosis.
Mary Wilson, Consultant Breast Radiologist at the Nightingale Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, and Lead for the National Breast Imaging Academy Project, said: “screening diagnoses around 19,000 breast cancers a year in England and there has already been a delay of over four months in the programme."
Returning to pre-pandemic levels with the current workforce "is an enormous mountain to climb," she added.
While the breast screening programme is beginning to start up again at different speeds across the country, the availability of appointments remains significantly reduced due to Covid-19 restrictions.
When considering all the new restrictions in testing, the significant backlog of women waiting for screening, and more women starting to come forward with concerns about possible breast cancer symptoms, enormous pressures on the imaging and diagnostic workforce are expected.
Due to the factors above, Breast Cancer Now is urgently calling on the Government and NHS bodies across the UK to set out how the anticipated surge in demand for imaging and diagnostics will be met. It is also calling on the Government to commit to investing in the NHS cancer workforce in its upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to ensure breast cancer cases are diagnosed as early as possible.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, commented: “governments and NHS health bodies across the UK must set out how the influx in demand for imaging and diagnostics will be met.
"The UK Government must also seize the timely opportunity presented by the Comprehensive Spending Review, to urgently invest in recruiting and training NHS staff so that the workforce is equipped to give all women with breast cancer the best possible chance of early diagnosis. ”
These findings come from the charity’s new report, ‘Press Play: getting and keeping breast cancer services back on track’, which puts a spotlight on the profound impact Covid-19 has had on breast cancer to date.
The report also outlines recommendations as to how governments and NHS bodies across the UK can tackle this crisis, ensuring rapid progress is made in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and care and that this momentum is maintained even if further peaks of Covid-19 place further pressure on health services.
While screening comes with some risks to be aware of, Breast Cancer Now encourages all women to attend their appointments when invited.
The charity also urges women who notice any new or unusual changes in their breasts to get in touch with their GP urgently, and it is critical women continue to do so during the pandemic.
Anyone concerned about Covid-19 and breast screening can call the charity’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.
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