54% dip in cancer diagnoses at Altnagelvin suggests 330 ‘missing’ patients between March and December

A huge drop in cancer diagnoses at Altnagelvin suggests hundreds of patients were missed last year.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 5:38 pm

Fresh analysis from the NI Cancer Registry show there was a 54% dip in patients with a sample indicating cancer in the weeks ending December 12, 2020 to January 9, 2021, at Altnagelvin compared to the average in the equivalent weeks in 2017-2019.

This was the largest decrease of any hospital. It means that based upon the monthly trend in patients with samples indicating cancer, there was an estimated shortfall of 330 ‘missing’ patients at Altnagelvin between March 2020 and December 2020 compared to what would have been expected.

“Some of these ‘missing’ patients may have a clinical only diagnosis (e.g. as a result of an emergency hospital admission),” according to the latest report from NICR.

Altnagelvin

Since last spring the QUB-based registry has been looking at the impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnosis. Academics have reported how some services, such as breast and bowel screening, were impacted across the north as a result of the emergency while many potential cancer patients did not come forward with symptoms due to COVID concerns.

Its latest overview of recent trends show there were big falls in diagnoses right across the health service.

“There was a 13 per cent reduction in the number of patients with a pathology sample indicating cancer in the weeks ending December 12, 2020 to January 9, 2021 compared to the average value in the equivalent weeks in 2017-2019.

“There was a 13% decrease among males and a 13% decrease among females. A decrease of 15% was recorded in the number of patients aged 0-69 years, while a decrease of 9% occurred in the number aged 70 and older. Reductions were greatest in Altnagelvin (54%), with decreases also apparent in Craigavon (30%) and Antrim (23%),” it reports.

The centre also breaks down the fall in presentations and samples by cancer type.

“Compared to the annual average in 2017-2019, the number of patients with a pathology sample indicating bowel cancer in the weeks ending December 12, 2020 to January 9, 2021 decreased by 15%, while those indicating lung cancer decreased by 17%, those indicating prostate cancer decreased by 14 % and those indicating breast cancer decreased by 9%. Decreases of more than 20 per cent occurred for gynaecological cancer, head and neck cancer, urinary cancer, haematological cancer and melanoma,” the latest reports states.

This week the Public Health Agency (PHA) has appealed for people with symptoms to come forward.