· NHS warns about risk of cancer patients postponing contact with GPs
· Warning follows ‘stark’ drop in number of urgent cancer cases
The number of patients reporting urgent symptoms of cancer has fallen to a record low, prompting concerns patients are putting off diagnosis and treatment during the coronavirus outbreak.
Figures released by the main two cancer treatment centres in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire show that the number of new cases requiring assessment for potential cancer has fallen by more than 65 per cent since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
The marked change could mean that thousands of patients are putting their lives at risk by waiting longer with symptoms of cancer.
Dr Thilan Bartholomeuz, who is a local GP and CCG Cancer Lead, said: “The stark drop in the number of patients seeking help for urgent cancer tests is extremely worrying.
“Patients could be losing years of life as a result of delaying action, as most cancers are more easily cured or treated in the earliest stages of the disease.
“It could also mean that there is wave of patients out there who will be in need of treatment for more advanced cancer when the country emerges from the Coronavirus outbreak.”
In England patients who display signs and symptoms of cancer are referred to a cancer centre such as a local hospital for urgent investigation within two weeks. However, nine in every 10 people referred this way will not be diagnosed with cancer.
Nottingham University Hospitals, the NHS Trust which operates the QMC and City Hospital, recorded 130 referrals a day at the beginning of last month. But this figure has fallen to about 40 more recently.
Figures have likewise fallen at Sherwood Forest Hospitals, where the daily number of patients referred for potential signs of cancer has dropped from 60 to 25.
Many patients have experienced delays in treatment for other conditions or had appointments postponed, as the NHS prioritises the most vulnerable patients during the Coronavirus outbreak. But the local NHS is working hard to protect those who are suffering with cancer from the impact of disruption to services. GPs continue to refer all urgent cancer cases for treatment.
Dr Bartholomeuz added: “It is essential that during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, appropriate clinical priority is given to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
“That’s why local GPs continue to refer all suspected cancer referrals as priority to specialists in our hospitals so that they can be assessed urgently and monitored either remotely or in person, when clinically appropriate.
“I would urge anyone who is concerned about cancer symptoms to contact their GP at the earliest opportunity to discuss their concerns.”
James Catton, cancer lead at Nottingham University Hospitals said: “We are working hard to ensure that once patients are referred with a suspected cancer that they have timely access to diagnostics and treatment in a safe environment. I would encourage people who have any concerns that they may have cancer, to get in touch their GP so we can investigate and provide any care you need, or put your mind at ease.”
“We have, of course, had to adapt the way we work in these unusual times to make sure we keep patients and staff safe. We are using digital technology for consultations and where we need to see patients face to face we are taking precautions, using PPE and socially distancing where possible. I would like to emphasise that we are doing everything that we can to keep patients safe when they come into hospital and would strongly encourage people to make use of our services if they have any health concerns.”
The NHS has published a range of information and guidance about the signs and symptoms of Cancer as part of their national ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign. Visit https://www.nhs.uk/be-clear-on-cancer for more information.