Hospital blow out: Cancer patients at risk
Exclusive: Hundreds of thousands of Australians missed out on health screens and surgeries because of COVID-19 with hospitals now so overwhelmed some people won't get their surgery until 2022.
New data from Cancer Australia shows there were 15 per cent fewer procedures to detect bowel cancer and 10 per cent fewer PSA tests for prostate cancer.
Surgeries to treat melanoma and breast cancer were also down by six per cent, a new report which tracks data between January and September this year and compares it to 2019 has found.
In total, 133,000 fewer people had screening or treatment for common cancers in the year to September.
The drop-off in screening and treatment was driven by a nationwide ban on elective surgery in April to free up beds for COVID-19 patients.
People also did not seek out health care because they were frightened of catching COVID-19 if they attended a doctors' clinic or medical testing service.
The situation improved after the surgery ban and lockdown was lifted but experts are worried many Australians have missed out having their cancer diagnosed in time for early treatment.
"We know that delays in cancers being diagnosed, or cancers being diagnosed at a later stage, may lead to poorer cancer outcomes," Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe told News Corp Australia.
"Recovery was observed by September 2020 for some but not all cancer-related services, with surgical excision of melanoma, breast cancer surgeries and colorectal surgeries not yet fully recovered to March levels by September," she said.
Victoria's second wave had a major impact and from July to September 2020 in that state surgeries for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma were between 15 per cent and 32 per cent lower in September than in March 2020.
Partial to full recovery was observed in the other jurisdictions, the report shows.
The Heart Foundation has also warned more than a third of Australians aged 45 and over have not had up-to-date tests for high blood pressure and high cholesterol this year.
These are the two leading risk factors for coronary heart disease, which kills on average 50 Australians every day.
In May, News Corp Australia revealed more than 60,000 patients a day were missing out on medical tests they needed to diagnose disease because they feared catching Covid-19.
At the time 15 doctors groups warned a tsunami of illness could overwhelm the health system later in the year - and that appears to be happening.
John Crothers spokesperson for the Continuity of Care Collaboration said while blood sugar and other testing had improved there was a 35 per cent shortfall on cervical cancer tests and HIV tests were still down 20 per cent.
In recent months ambulance services in Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide were overwhelmed, with Victoria declaring a Code Red situation on December 14.
And Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show there were 9.2 per cent fewer surgeries performed across the country in the year to June compared to 2019.
This has left public hospitals facing a major surgery backlog and waiting lists have exploded.
In NSW, elective waiting lists had blown out by 10,000 patients in September and there are now almost 100,000 patients waiting for surgery.
Some non-urgent patients in NSW are waiting 441 days to get treated.
In Victoria there were 66,242 patients waiting for elective surgery in September - a 47.6 per cent increase on the same period last year.
South Australia has not updated its performance information since April when there were 19,578 people waiting for elective surgery.
Queensland has not updated its hospital waiting list data since February.
Professor Keefe urged people to go and get tested if they were worried about symptoms.
"Most symptoms are due to something less serious than cancer, but if it is cancer, the earlier it is found, the better," she said.
Leanne Wells, the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, said Australia had performed well in curbing the spread of COVID-19" but now we have to ensure that we are not going to end up with such widespread delays in surgery and other treatments that the consequences would overwhelm our health system, outweighing the direct impact of COVID".
"We call on Federal and State governments to ensure that the funding and other resources urgently needed are made available to meet the needs that have been magnified by the knock-on affects of the pandemic, and we encourage consumers to avoid putting off seeking care early."
Originally published as Hospital blow out: Cancer patients at risk