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Covid cancer concern over missed tests

Putting off routine medical appointments during the pandemic could have deadly consequences, medical experts warn.

Dr Lucy Blunt (44341147)
Dr Lucy Blunt (44341147)

Research by Health Care Research Hub (HDR UK) for Cancer suggests that there could be as many as 35,000 excess deaths nationally due to delays in diagnosis and treatment caused by the pandemic.

On a local level, Dr Lucy Blunt, GP partner at Rother House Medical Centre, put out an urgent plea this week asking patients to keep attending appointments and prevention screening programmes.

Dr Blunt’s area of expertise if gynaecology, and she is shocked that uptake of smear tests had fallen by half at the practice.

A smear test is offered regularly to women aged 25 to 64 to help in the early detection of cervical cancer.

To encourage women to get tested, Dr Blunt and a nurse colleague put on a special clinic last Saturday and were desperately disappointed when a significant number of women failed to keep their appointment.

She told the Herald: “We put on the clinic specifically on a Saturday morning hoping that it would be the most convenient time for many. We rang round lots of women who were behind on their smears to come in and got them to book an appointment. But on the day we were really disappointed by the numbers that simply didn’t turn up. It is very frustrating.”

There may be a number of reasons why people are not keeping to appointments, speculated Dr Blunt, including a belief that the medical centre is not fully operational or because they fear being exposed to Covid-19.

“We’ve been bending over backwards to make sure we continue to operate,” clarified Dr Blunt. “We’ve also made it very clear that the we are strictly following infection control procedures and that patients are not at risk by coming here.”

She continued: “Everyone is quite rightly caught up with Covid, but actually what we don’t want to do in the midst of the pandemic is to miss the early signs of cervical cancer that could be detected with a five-minute smear test and then treated before it becomes an issue.

Part of the problem, suspects Dr Blunt, is the misleading information on social media. She is encouraging people to find proper medical information on the Rother Street Medical Centre’s website and Facebook page.

Issuing a final piece of advice, she added: “People may think we are dealing with more pressing concerns, but smear testing is a way of catching cancer early, and so it could be a matter of life and death.

“We are stressing that we want people to make appointments with us if they are concerned about any symptoms they might have so we can decide how quickly we may need to refer them for further care.”

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