Women in Latrobe and Baw Baw local government areas are still waiting for life-saving early detection of breast cancer, as the system continues to play catch up on 30,000 screenings that were missed as a result of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Victoria’s Health Department admitted an estimated 2500 cancer diagnoses were missed or delayed in 2020.
Breast screening stopped for seven weeks in 2020, with the Health Department also admitting to Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) they’re still playing catch-up 12 months later.
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath said any delay to early detection of cancers put lives at risk.
“Early diagnosis is the crucial difference that saves lives which is why it’s so important Victoria steps up efforts to screen women who missed out during the pandemic,” Ms Bath said.
“But despite the life-saving benefits, funding for BreastScreen Victoria has been cut in the past two financial years.
“Access to health care in regional communities is difficult enough without the Andrews Labor Government restricting funding to the most common cancer affecting Victorian women.”
Health Department Secretary Prof Euan Wallace admitted at PAEC the Victorian Cancer Registry estimated “about 2500 cancer diagnoses may have been delayed or missed during the calendar year 2020 in Victoria”, including breast cancers.
Approximately 17,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia and breast screening is recognised as the best way to detect the formation of cancer early before it can be seen or felt.
“We know that preventative health measures are vitally important when it comes to early diagnosis and maximising the success of treatment, taking the pressure off families and our health system,” Ms Bath said.
Current data shows less than half of Victorian women in the target age range for breast cancer screens were screened in 2020-21, which recorded a participation rate of 48.6 per cent.
The Department blamed the “response to COVID-19 and the implementation of COVID-safe measures” for failing to reach the 54 per cent target, despite having been on track at March 2020.
Ms Bath said despite missing the target, funding hadn’t been prioritised to boost the participation rate in vital women’s health screening.
“While it’s important to stay Covid safe other health conditions which must continue to be supported.
“Preventative health is an incredibly important activity and I encourage all my constituents to undertake important health screenings to stay healthy.
“It’s totally unacceptable for the Andrews Government to be cutting any health program at any stage, let alone during a pandemic”.