During that time the charity estimates around 10,700 fewer cancer diagnoses were made across the UK. Charity chief executive Baroness Delyth Morgan said: “The tragic cost is that in the worst cases, women could die. “Women with breast cancer have already paid an unacceptable price due to the pandemic. “We simply cannot afford for any more time to pass before UK governments invest in and tackle the crisis.”
Breast Cancer Now believes there are around 8,900 undiagnosed cases in England, 890 in Scotland, 687 in Wales and 248 in Northern Ireland.
Screening services were stopped for around five months in Wales and four months in Scotland. England officially kept going but last year many local services put it on hold for a few months to reduce the risk of spreading Covid. Screenings have resumed at a reduced capacity due to social distancing and infection control.
The charity fears the inevitable extra demand for care in the near future will play badly with an understaffed service.
Dr Jeanette Dickson, of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “Many units have vacancies and there is a looming shortage of breast radiologists due to retirement.
“The backlog of cases will put even more pressure on stretched diagnostic teams – and the cancer teams then responsible for tailoring and delivering treatment.”
Breast Cancer Now urged women to contact their GP immediately if they notice any new or unusual breast changes – and to attend screenings.
Anyone affected can also call its free helpline on 0808 800 6000. The charity’s clinical nurse specialist Jane Murphy said: “We hear from women who are worried about the risk of Covid-19 so are reluctant to attend medical appointments, and who don’t want to bother their GP during the pandemic.
“But the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the better the chances of treatment being successful.”
An NHS spokesman said: “While the vast majority of cancers detected through screening programmes are at a very early stage and so the clinical impact on patients is extremely low, thousands of invitations are being sent every month.
“People should book in for screening as soon as they are invited.”
Public Health England is also encouraging people to act if they notice symptoms of a stroke after related hospital attendances fell 13 percent from March to July.
It said: “Stroke is a medical emergency and still one of the leading causes of death. If people have concerns about any early signs, call an ambulance immediately. Don’t wait until a second potentially more fatal stroke.”