Despite NHS England urging people to seek guidance for any new or ongoing symptoms, by the end of April 2020 the number of cancer referrals made had dropped by approximately 70%. Professor Clare Turnbull has highlighted that a three-month delay could make a substantial difference in a patient’s prognosis, and ultimately as to whether a cancer could be cured or not. She has raised concerns that in delaying routine surgery, this risked thousands of additional deaths.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has stressed that the NHS must ensure cancer-surgery delays do not cost more lives than those lost during the coronavirus pandemic. According to an ICR study, if all surgeries to remove tumours are delayed by six months, then for every 10 patients suffering from coronavirus whose lives were saved, four cancer patients could die. According to the study a three-month delay could lead to in the region of 5,000 excess deaths, and a six month delay could lead to almost 11,000.

Professor Turnbull did also suggest that the NHS should prioritise "certain cancer types in particular", including colorectal and lung cancers, which can progress very quickly. However, others cancers including certain breast cancers and prostate cancer treatment could be delayed more safely. Some oncologists (specialists in cancer care) have spoken to the BBC News of having to delay some patients’ care until after the coronavirus pandemic, decisions which they have found difficult.

Cancer charity Macmillan has confirmed that treatment for many has been moved to a different hospital, some patients were given chemotherapy or hormonal therapy instead of surgery, and some patients’ treatment was being delayed entirely.

Hospital Trusts have been advised that despite the pandemic, all essential cancer treatments must carry on. An NHS England official confirmed, "Vital tests and treatments are going ahead in a safe way for thousands of patients, including by introducing Covid -19 protected cancer hubs…The NHS has now set out guidance so that hospitals can further increase the number of cancer tests and treatments they carry out, as well as having the extra capacity to treat future coronavirus patients…So our message to anyone worried about symptoms is, 'Help us help you, and seek help as you always would.'"

We have previously covered in blogs the risks to patients of not being reviewed in person, leading to delayed diagnosis or conditions being missed. Professor Turnbull has raised the same concern that the NHS may face a backlog of cancer patients in the coming months, as people who have been unable to see their GP, or unwilling to take that risk, present with cancer symptoms.

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We know from experience that it is important that those with health concerns can access the support they require. Should you have new or existing symptoms we would suggest contacting your GP in the first instance as it is important for your health and wellbeing to seek medical assistance. If you have concerns that a condition has been missed or there has been a delay in any cancer treatment then please do get in contact with us as we may be able to assist you.

If you are concerned about any treatment which you or a loved one have received, please contact our team:-

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham) on 0845 274 6830

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes) 0186 578 1019

Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham) on 0845 272 5724

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