I propose to take Questions Nos. 1042 to 1053, inclusive, together.
Cancer diagnostic services (including Rapid Access Clinics) have continued throughout the Covid pandemic, with appropriate restrictions for physical distancing and infection prevention and control (IPC). At this point, attendance numbers at urgent Symptomatic Breast Disease Clinics have returned to pre-Covid levels. While attendances are down for Rapid Access Lung Clinics, Rapid Access Prostate Clinics and non-urgent Breast Disease Clinics, they are showing a steady recovery. Monthly attendance figures, and time to treatment are being used to measure performance and recovery in Rapid Access Clinics. Related to this, and in the context of a reticence among people to visit GPs in the earlier phase of Covid-19, GP e-referrals are being monitored to determine the number of people with suspected cancers coming forward, and, as indicated, such referrals have increased.
Maintaining urgent cancer surgeries has been a priority for the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) throughout the Covid period. Clinical Guidance documents were developed by the NCCP, in conjunction with the relevant Surgical Oncology Clinical Leads Group. In many hospitals, the focus was on moving time sensitive and complex surgeries to private hospitals that had the required facilities and support services. Activity levels in surgical oncology are monitored on an on-going basis using HIPE data.
Radiation Oncology services continue to treat all newly referred patients. Given the extent of the equipment involved, and the purpose-built facilities for radiation oncology, services have remained, largely, within public hospitals. The focus is on ensuring that the maximum number of patients can be treated within the KPI timescales for radiation oncology. However, the ongoing need for social distancing and other IPC measures will result in capacity being reduced somewhat from pre-Covid levels in the coming months.
The majority of patients presenting for medical oncology services continued to be treated during the Covid period. However, throughput was reduced, partly because of less patients being referred. The challenges of social distancing and IPC measures will continue to impact and minor capital works are being considered, where feasible, as part of the means of addressing this. Monitoring of activity levels in medical oncology continues using HIPE data The Together 4 Cancer Concern initiative which was commenced in the context of Covid-19 involves community & telephone pyscho-social support for cancer patients, survivors and their families and carers. This is being done as a collaboration involving the NCCP, the Irish Cancer Society, Cancer Care West and the network of community cancer support centres across the country. It includes general and specialist psychological support delivered mainly though telephone and online platforms, with further supports being made available where required.
The possibility of further resourcing of cancer services to address the impacts of Covid-19 are being considered in the contest of the Winter/Continuity of Services Initiative.