New data shows surge in diabetes testing, drop in cancer detection post-pandemic

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The Continuity of Care Collaboration says it has identified significant trends in Australian healthcare engagement post-pandemic.

Established in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaboration is an alliance of 30 healthcare organisations that aims to highlight and provide solutions to the challenges it created for routine healthcare services.

The members of the collaboration include Medicines Australia, Pathology Awareness Australia, and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

It said that while some tests have returned to pre-pandemic levels, others have not, including histology which is used to diagnose cancer.

In Queensland, histology testing for cancer detection is down by 18 per cent in 2023, compared to a 2 per cent decrease in 2020.

The numbers remain constant for Victoria, at a 12 per cent decrease, while NSW, which recorded a 2 per cent decrease in 2020, has seen a further reduction of 7 per cent in 2023.

John Emmerson, the managing director of London Agency and a co-founder of the collaboration, moderated a panel yesterday involving Dr Catherine Bennett, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, Dr Nick Coatsworth of the Australian Patients Association, Dr Rob Grenfell from Grampians Health, and John Crothers representing the collaboration.

Professor Bennett said, “While we see encouraging trends in diabetes management, reflected by a significant uptick in HbA1c testing, cancer testing rates are persistently lower than 2019.

"This is concerning, especially in histology where delays in testing may be associated with a rise in late-stage cancer diagnoses, that could have been preventable with earlier detection. It’s important that we understand the barriers preventing people from accessing regular cancer screenings."

According to John Crothers, the executive officer of Pathology Awareness Australia and co-chair of the collaboration, "The latest pathology data acts as a crucial 'canary in the coal mine', signalling areas in our healthcare system that need urgent attention.  The continued decrease in cancer detection rates is alarming.”

He continued, “We must address this gap and encourage Australians to resume regular cancer screenings and other essential health checks. Our collective efforts in healthcare must ensure no critical area is left behind in the post-pandemic era."