Fears of delayed diagnoses as urgent cancer referrals plummet by 62% during coronavirus lockdown – The Sun

PEOPLE who spot any symptoms of cancer are urged to see their GP asap, after urgent referrals plummeted 62 per cent during the coronavirus lockdown.

Experts are worried a drop in referrals could lead to delayed diagnosis and poorer outcomes for patients, the Health and Social Care Select Committee heard.

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The committee, chaired by ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt, met virtually today, to delve into the issues plaguing the NHS, from cancer treatment to mental health and maternity services.

Many services have been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic as frontline NHS staff were deployed to help in the fight against the virus.

National cancer director for NHS England, Dame Cally Palmer said chemotherapy treatments have dropped and warned two-week referrals were down by 62 per cent.

"We had just under 15,000 people booked for an appointment but that is a 62 per cent reduction and clearly it's very important we address that because early detection is vital for increased survival," she told MPs.

"Broadly, chemotherapy appointments are running at about 70 per cent of normal levels and the reason for that, and we think we can set them back very quickly because, of course, is they use different facilities and workforce broadly from surgery and the other resources required to respond to Covid-19", she added.

It comes after the UK's gynaecological cancer research charity launched the 'Get Lippy' appeal, in order to encourage women to investigate cancer symptoms, after it found that many were leaving them unchecked during lockdown.

Young people surveyed by YouGov and The Eve Appeal said they wouldn’t address symptoms of cancers including cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and cancer of the womb.

Despite the dramatic drop in referrals, she said it was important to note that urgent referrals and urgent cancer treatments were still be completed.

She did however admit that trials that had not yet started were no longer going ahead, but said active trials were still ongoing.

"Obviously we need to tailor that to patient's individual risk but I think it would be wrong to make a mathematical calculation on that basis," Dame Cally said.

"It's very important that we get people coming forward but I think to translate that into missed diagnosis and poor survival would not be a responsible position at this point."

She said while a different team of NHS staff are tackling Covid, a lot of the resources needed for cancer care are similar to those being used to fight the virus, noting intensive care beds as one example.

During the hearing Mr Hunt also touched upon recent University College London research that warned of 18,000 extra deaths in England this year to cancer, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its sprawling consequences.

Just last week leading oncologist Professor Karol Sikora claimed cutbacks to cancer treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic would be a "death sentence" for many patients.

He claimed that in years to come there could be an extra 50,000 deaths if the coronavirus lockdown continues to put a strain on cancer services.

Dame Cally said while although such modelling was important she stressed that it was too early to make assumptions.

She added that it was important that screenings continued to take place in order to keep treatment plans on the move.

And she admitted that experts are more concerned with regards to certain cancers.

"I'm concerned that we get bowel cancer screening back in place," she said.

"We are doing treatment for fixed positive patients currently but I think it's important that we make sure screening methodology is available in the normal way.

"Cancers are, things like bowel cancer are very slow growing, so I think if it's four to six weeks rescheduling that shouldn't affect survival, but it's very important that we continue with our screening programmes for cancer".

Delays in diagnosing new cancers and getting treatment for those who already have the disease could significantly impact survival, according to the study from University College London (UCL) and DATA-CAN, the Health Data Research Hub for Cancer.
Researchers estimated that pre-Covid-19, about 31,354 newly diagnosed cancer patients would die within a year in England.
But as a result of coronavirus, they found there could be at least 6,270 extra deaths in newly diagnosed cancer patients – a rise of a fifth.
When all people currently living with cancer were included, the figure jumped to 17,915 excess deaths.


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