On 24 July 2020, I said in this Chamber that the decision to postpone bowel and breast cancer screening over the course of that spring and summer until September was a mistake. Even at that early stage, when social media was awash with videos of people dropping dead on the streets of China, falsely attributed to Covid-19, and fear and panic around the unknown severity and mortality rate of the virus gripped the country, the cancelling of essential cancer screening seemed to many to be an ill-judged decision. As time went on and we learned that our worst fears could never be realised, the full reopening of these services should have been swift and decisive but such was not the case. Repeated Government-ordered lockdowns caused further disruption to appointments and check-ups and even when these were available the chilling effect of Government and media fearmongering led to so many people ignoring early warning signs. They were terrified to step outside of their homes to go and receive medical care.
It is important to distinguish that Covid did not cancel cancer appointments but the Government and the HSE did. In his comments as reported last week, the Taoiseach seemed to once again portray the mindset that lockdowns were a thing that just happened as a result of Covid, rather than them being decided on by the Government and enforced by organs of this State, which it leads. The issue was raised directly with the Taoiseach in the Lower House on 31 March 2021 by Deputy Tóibín. The Taoiseach told him in an exchange that should not quickly be forgotten to "get real". It would seem that the reality has finally caught up with us just in time for winter when our healthcare system, the most expensive in Europe by some metrics, struggles and falters every year, even pre-Covid. In the months to come people across the country will receive news that they have cancer and that it could have been treated if it had been caught sooner but it was not. I am not asking that the Taoiseach provide a miracle for those people but perhaps an apology would be appropriate.