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Continued delays for ‘non-urgent’ breast cancer referrals – NCCP

By Paul Mulholland - 07th Feb 2022

A meeting of the National Cancer Control Programme’s (NCCP) executive management committee in October heard the continued delays in patients being seen in symptomatic breast disease (SBD) clinics was concerning. 

According to the minutes of the meeting, which were seen by the Medical Independent (MI) through Freedom of Information law, the clinic in St James’s Hospital in Dublin was particularly “challenged”, and management had been engaged with the NCCP for the previous six months to find solutions. 

The meeting heard that potential solutions to delays in SBD clinics included outsourcing mammograms, additional clinics, and more resources allocated to radiology. 

When asked about the current situation, a spokesperson for the NCCP told MI there are continued delays in seeing the ‘non-urgent’ patient cohort across all symptomatic breast disease units. 

“This is due in part to the effects of Covid and the prioritisation of the patients in the urgent category as the cancer detection rate is higher.” 

The NCCP has been engaging with the cancer centres, SBD clinics and rapid access clinics throughout 2020/2021 and has considered all potential solutions outlined in the October minutes, according to the spokesperson. 

“The NCCP is continuing to engage with the cancer centres to address these Covid/cyberattack-related issues and the situation is being monitored closely,” they added. 

In advance of World Cancer Day (4 February), the European Cancer Organisation called for urgent action on the fact that approximately one million cancer cases are undiagnosed across Europe as a result of the effects of Covid-19. 

Through its ‘Time To Act’ data navigator, the Organisation makes key data available which maps out the impact of Covid-19 on cancer across European countries. For Ireland, the tool reveals significant “pandemic-induced burdens” across cancer control and care, with an estimated 58 per cent reduction in referrals to rapid access clinics at the lowest point and an overall 10-to-14 per cent shortfall in cancer diagnoses in 2020. 

Meanwhile, at the September meeting of the NCCP executive manangement committee, there was a discussion on making breast cancer outpatient departments (OPD) ‘paperless’. 

“The scoping exercise to determine how the NCIS [national cancer information system] can support a paperless environment in breast clinic OPDs is ongoing,” according to the minutes. 

As a result of the cyberattack, it is now likely the full implementation of the NCIS will not occur until next year.  The dates for many hospital sites to ‘go-live’ with the system has been delayed by between six and 12 months, added the minutes.

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