Pathology Awareness Australia has joined with more than 30 healthcare organisations to encourage Australians to look after their non-COVID-19 health needs during the pandemic.

The Don’t Wait Mate campaign was launched this week by members of the Continuity of Care Collaboration in response to Australians missing vital healthcare appointments, pathology tests, scans and screening during COVID-19 restrictions.

According to research by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) there was a drop of 24% in face-to-face consultations in June 2020 compared to the same month last year.

During the first wave of COVID-19 pathology testing rates were down 40% on average across Australia and are currently down by 25% in Victoria.

Laboratory data revealed that in April diabetes testing rates fell 54% compared to the weekly average in February 2020. Cervical cancer screening rates fell by 67%, tests for prostate cancer reduced by 56%, and other cancer related tests dropped by as much as 60%.

Although healthcare is one of the permitted reasons to leave home under COVID-19 restrictions, patients are still delaying seeking the care they need to manage chronic conditions, or to address new symptoms.

Research results from a consumer survey by the CCC found the most common reasons patients are delaying health checks. Over half of survey respondents (59%), had delayed health checks due to fear of catching COVID-19. 36% were worried that health services would be too busy to see them, and 23% thought they would be breaking the rules to leave their homes to receive healthcare.

The purpose of the Don’t Wait Mate campaign is to raise awareness of the importance of continuing regular healthcare and to ensure that Australians feel safe and confident to access care during the pandemic.

Concerns have also been raised following the decrease of around 15% in skin sample referrals to laboratories across the country. An alarming figure on a topic which is close to Jason Clare MP’s heart.

Speaking out in support of the campaign Mr Clare said:

“The work the CCC is doing to encourage Australians not to delay the healthcare they need is vital. Around this time last year, I noticed a mole on my leg was changing colour. I went and got a skin check. The mole was removed, and the pathology test revealed it was a malignant melanoma. I was lucky. We got it early. If I didn’t have that test the cancer could have spread to the rest of my body. I’m asking Australians to please go and get the checks you need done. It’s what I did. It saved my life and it could save your life too, Don’t Wait Mate.”

Pathology testing is a vital part of preventative healthcare such as screening tests, as well as for diagnosis and management of chronic diseases. John Crothers, Chair of Pathology Awareness Australia says that many people will now be overdue for tests they missed during the first months of the pandemic and that continued delays puts patients’ long-term health at risk. Mr Crothers said;

“Pathology tests can be lifesaving in diagnosing many serious diseases, as well as helping people manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, to maintain their health and quality of life. It is vital that anyone with an ongoing condition, new symptoms, or who is due for a screening test comes forward to get the care they need, please don’t wait.”

General Practitioners are also concerned that many patients are still staying away and delaying important GP appointments. Chair RACGP Victoria, Dr Cameron Loy said; “the last thing we want to see is a rise in health problems because patients have delayed care. My message to patients is this: if you have an ongoing or new health concern don’t wait, call your GP and make an appointment today. Your GP is there to help.

“It has never been easier to access care from your GP, with telephone and video appointments available. And it remains safe to visit the clinic if you need an in-person consultation, such as for a test. General practices have strict measures in place to keep patients, GPs and the practice team safe, including infection prevention and personal protective equipment. If you have cold or flu like symptoms, please call your practice first, don’t just drop in.”