Vital health service still closed due to Covid: ‘Life and death’

·4-min read

There’s fears that thousands of breast cancer cases have been left undiagnosed in NSW after screening services were closed amid the deadly Delta outbreak.

As restrictions are eased across NSW, the government is under mounting pressure to immediately reopen all BreastScreen NSW clinics with many women still unable to access life-saving mammograms.

Christina Bullivant, 41, was four weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in August last year after her doctor encouraged her to get a “routine check”.

With no symptoms and no family history, it came as a “complete shock” to the Northern Beaches mother.

(Left) A photo Christina Bullivant, 41, holding her son. (Right) A supplied photo of her son and daugher. Source: Supplied
Christina Bullivant, 41, was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child after a routine mammogram last year. Source: Supplied

“I was just so lucky it was caught so early, it hasn’t become invasive yet,” she told Yahoo News.

At nine weeks pregnant, she underwent a successful single mastectomy and went on to give birth to a healthy baby boy in April this year.

“He protected me really because I had to stay strong,” she said.

“My outcome could have been very different had I not had the mammogram,” she said.

The mother-of-two said it was “really triggering” when BreastScreen NSW clinics were closed as the Delta virus spread across the state.

“This is surely an essential service,” she said.

“I fear for the women who face a different future to me because of the closures. Months can make a difference. You just don’t know how fast these things can move.”

A photo of a BreastScreen NSW van. Source: Facebook/BreastScreen NSW - NSW GOV
Vital breast cancer screening services were forced to close during Sydney's Covid lockdown and are yet to reopen. Source: Facebook/BreastScreen NSW - NSW GOV

In August, impacted women took to social media to express their fury, as their appointments were cancelled or postponed.

“Dear [Gladys Berejiklian] PLEASE explain why I can go to Bunnings but I cannot get my potentially life-saving routine mammogram through Breastscreen NSW???” writer Kerri Sackville wrote on Twitter.

The post received an overwhelming response and even caught the attention of The Project Host Lisa Wilkinson.

“This is completely outrageous,” she said while sharing the message with her hundreds of thousands of followers.

Thousands sign petition to reopen service

Ms Bullivant is behind a petition of 30,000 signatures calling for the service to be reopened as a priority, which she presented to the NSW Opposition at state Parliament on Tuesday.

“You can still go to the doctor, get a massage, so many other services with close personal contact are open. There has to be a way for this service to operate in a Covid safe way.”

A photo Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park and State Member for Canterbury Sophie Cotsis being handed a petition calling on the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to immediately reopen all BreastScreen NSW clinics across the state. Source: Change.org
Ms Bullivant handed a petition with more than 30,000 signatures calling for the service to reopened to the NSW Opposition. Source: Change.org

Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park said there is no reason the service shouldn’t be up and running to clear the backlog.

“Getting a screen can be the difference between life and death. The Government must make this a top priority” he said.

The member for Canterbury Sophie Cotsis added: “Like the race to get people to get people vaccinated, it is now a race to get any woman overdue for a mammogram screened. There is no excuse for any BreastScreen clinic to remain closed given it is now a month since we reopened from the recent lockdowns.”

BreastScreen NSW in 'final stages' of reopening 

A spokesperson told Yahoo News that BreastScreen NSW has been working with local health districts to reopen clinics across the state.

Screening has resumed at 45 clinics and 15 mobile vans, with the four remaining sites - Shellharbour, Bowral, Auburn and Mount Druitt - in the "final stages" of resumption planning.

Women who had their appointment cancelled during the temporary suspension will be allocated a prioritised booking.

"The decision to suspend screening was made in response to the increasing risk posed by the Covid-19 Delta strain and a need to redeploy staff to support the pandemic response at each local health district," the statement read.

"This includes vaccination, testing, support for the Specialty Health Accommodation and relieving frontline workers who need to quarantine."

Ms Bullivant urged any women over 40 to urgently make a booking with the service. 

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