‘Tsunami of cancer deaths’ predicted for Scotland if backlog not tackled

Scotland will face a “tsunami of cancer deaths” unless it rapidly deals with a backlog of almost 400,000 screenings delayed during the coronavirus lockdown, Scottish Labour has warned.

The Scottish Government confirmed 396,736 breast, bowel and cervical screenings have been postponed since lockdown began due to a pause in the screening programme. Health secretary Jeane Freeman announced the resumption of smear tests to detect cervical cancer at the end of last month, while the national screening programme should restart from 3 August. In a letter to Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, the Scottish Government said 248,177 bowel screenings, 101,963 smear tests and 46,596 breast scans have been delayed since lockdown was imposed.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick told her: “The cancer screening programmes that were paused on 30 March (breast, bowel and cervical) are now beginning to restart – safely, carefully and in a series of stages.”

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Labour is now calling for the Scottish Government to introduce “a fully resourced plan to restart and prioritise cancer screening and treatment” across Scotland.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman

Ms Lennon said: “Most cancer services were stopped when Covid-19 struck – 400,000 missed opportunities to find or prevent cancer is risking 400,000 lives.

“Worryingly, we now face a cancer emergency and urgent action is needed to clear the backlog of vital screening appointments.

“Cancer is already Scotland’s biggest killer and we face a tsunami of cancer deaths without a rapid response from the health secretary.”

She added: “Diagnosing cancer early is key to improving the odds of survival.

“We should not be in the situation where public health is falling behind pubs in the Scottish Government’s route map priorities.

“Scotland needs a fully-resourced plan to restart and prioritise cancer screening and treatment.

“We must be able to cope with the competing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic and non-Covid-related care in the months ahead, especially if there is a second wave.”

Macmillan Cancer Support had said during the lockdown period there was widespread anxiety and panic among those suffering from cancer.

The charity’s research found around 10,000 people with cancer had not left the house at all since the start of lockdown as of last month.


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