Covid-19 sees halt in oncology screenings

One of the more drastic sacrifices made during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been having to decide which medical treatments can be postponed to free up critical resources to fight the virus.

It was this debate which served as the focus for Life Healthcare’s recent virtual roundtable discussion.

Specifically, the talk focused on the implications of delaying oncology screening and treatment, in the context of Covid-19.

Professor Fergus Gleeson, a consultant radiologist and professor of radiology in Oxford, UK, said they had put off thousands of oncology scans since the pandemic hit.

“During the three months of absolute lockdown [in the UK], we were furloughing roughly 4,500 scans a month, so we ended up with about 15,000 scans in total that we had delayed that would have otherwise routinely happened,” he said.

Gleeson said the large backlog of cases had the potential to create serious problems further down the line.

He also said the redirecting of funds towards pandemic response, while understandable, had also created its own set of complications.

“The NHS [National Health Service], like all hospitals, is constantly replenishing equipment, changing and modernising it, and prime minister Boris Johnson announced in November last year that £200m [R4.4bn] worth of new equipment would go to hospitals.

“All of that is now frozen,” he said.

Cancer Association of SA (CANSA) health specialist Professor Michael Herbst said the messaging around Covid-19 may have played a part in encouraging people to avoid seeking medical attention.

“A lot of their [medical professionals] messages to the public are ‘don’t go to your doctor’s consulting room’, ‘don’t go to the hospital unless you’ve been instructed to’.

“Here is a subtle message that I think we’re pushing out to people that it’s not good for them to go to the hospital, rather just phone in,” he said.

When it came to cancer, this was a serious problem, he said.

“It’s an urgent matter and people should never delay going to see a doctor or specialist,” said Herbst.

He said it was harder for medical staff to make accurate diagnosis over the phone, which could have serious consequences for patients.

Other panelists included Life Healthcare emergency medicine GM Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, Life Healthcare oncology business lead Dr Louis Kathan and Momentum Health Solutions head of marketing Damian McHugh.

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