Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has expressed his disappointment that the reopening of the health service has not been mentioned in the discussions about the easing of restrictions in recent days.

Deputy Tóibín said: “Following a parliamentary question this week the HSE have released statistics to me regarding referrals and attendance at rapid access prostate clinics and symptomatic breast disease clinics. These statistics represent cause for serious concern, they show that overall the number of referrals for both conditions (added together) were up significantly in 2020 on previous years. Alarmingly the statistics show that the number of new attendances at these clinics is down on previous years. Both these figures are going in the wrong direction.

Deputy Tóibín continued; “in 2020 there were 40,394 GP referrals for symptomatic breast disease, more than in any of the previous four years. The same figure for 2019 stood at 35,120, and in 2018 there were 31,418 referrals. In quarter one of this year, 2021, there were 12,786 referrals. I can only assume that the reason for the high number of referrals last year is due to the reduction or cancellation of Breast Check screening services. It would follow that there are more symptomatic breast disease cases due to the closure of screening services, over 5,000 more referrals for symptomatic patients in 2020 than in 2019”.

“Despite the increase in referrals, the number of new patients attending rapid access clinics for both prostate and breast disease are down on the previous years. Again the number of attendances at clinics in 2020 is lower that each of the previous four years, by about 5,000. 37,887 people attended breast clinics in the State in 2020. This compares with 42,822 in 2019 and 42,872 in 2018. In the first quarter of this year 10,478 new attendances at breast clinics were recorded. For prostate services the figure is also down – 3,047 people attended the clinics in 2020, this compares with 3,821 in 2019 and 3,362 in 2018. In quarter one of this year, 839 men attended prostate clinics”.

“I have been contacted, as I’m sure many TDs have, by men and women who are struggling to get hospital appointments at this time. GPs are referring more people than usual, by hospitals are inviting fewer people than usual for appointments. And we’re not talking about routine appointments here, these are symptomatic patients. The idea that they cannot get appointments is infuriating. At the start of the pandemic, we in Aontú warned against the closure of our health services, we warned that more people would get cancer or other diseases as a consequence. Sadly, if these figures from the HSE are accurate, it looks like we are being proven correct”.

“Surely our health service, and cancer treatment in particular, should have been the number one priority for the government when considering plans for reopening, yet from what I can see it hasn’t been mentioned at all by any government spokesperson over the past number of days. This is regrettable. For every day while our health service remains partially closed we are going to count the cost in terms of lives lost in the years and months ahead. The exclusion of the health service from the plans for reopening will have detrimental effects,” concluded Deputy Tóibín.