Assembly Written Question 1365/17-22
Question: To ask the Minister of Health for his assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on cancer screenings.
Answer: Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic continues to place additional pressures on health services, however, within this context the recovery and restoration of cancer screening services is a priority. A phased, prioritised restoration of paused screening programmes commenced during June, July and August. The initial priority is to clear the backlog of patients waiting for diagnostic procedures and to issue invitations to those whose screening opportunities were paused. Progress towards restoration continues to be achieved. The Public Health Agency established a ‘Screening Restoration Group’ to provide regional coordination and oversight. The Group continues to work, in partnership with Trusts, to restore the paused screening programmes. This work is being undertaken in the context of maintaining social distancing in clinical settings and enhanced infection control measures, including the use of personal protective equipment. Restoration also needs to be aligned with the resetting and availability of associated diagnostic and treatment services. This has reduced programme throughput as the time to undertake individual screening has increased. Full recovery is a complex task and is likely to take some time, particularly as the pandemic is ongoing. Many aspects of service and practice have been altered as a result of the pandemic. It is estimated that a 12 month period will be required to restore screening services. It is vitally important that anyone who is experiencing any of the symptoms associated with early stage cancer should contact their doctor rather than waiting for a screening test.