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Restarting urgent operations and treatments must be a priority as Covid-19 case numbers fall

After weeks of desperate worry and the heartbreaking loss of thousands of lives we are now told that we have ‘passed the peak’ of the coronavirus spread. Importantly we are also being reassured that measures such as lockdown and social distancing have helped prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

Of course, we are far from out of the woods, as the total death toll, which is now shockingly over 30,000, still increases day by day. However, we are hearing many more positive messages from key individuals such as Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock, who last week announced plans for the “restoration of other NHS services” on a “hospital-by-hospital” basis over the coming weeks.

Mr Hancock says the Government is remaining mindful of avoiding a ‘second peak’ of the virus, but with the added capacity of newly created Nightingale hospitals, and having avoided the NHS being overwhelmed, the time has come to restart what he said were the most urgent services, citing cancer and mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How have cancer patients been affected?

The news of the restarting of health services has certainly come at an important time, given that new research has suggested the response to the Covid-19 pandemic could cause almost 18,000 more people in England to die following suspended treatments and deferred tests for cancer.

Experts have claimed that an extra 6,270 people in England who have been newly diagnosed with the disease could die from it over the next 12 months as a direct result of the disruption caused.

The additional toll, taking into account all those living with cancer, could be as high as 17,915.
What is the possible impact of delayed treatments?

The NHS-funded study, carried out by the University College London (UCL) and Data-Can, a health data research hub for cancer diagnosis and treatment in the UK, was the first to quantify the potential impact of the NHS delaying many forms of cancer treatment, including diagnostic tests and operations, and people not wanting to risk going into hospital in case they become infected.
It was based on data from the health records of more than 3.5 million patients in England and makes for worrying reading.

“Our findings demonstrate the serious potential for unintended consequences of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which may negatively impact on patients with cancer and other underlying health conditions,” said Dr Alvina Lai, a lead author of the study.

“The NHS should recognise patients affected as being particularly vulnerable and manage their care to reduce the risk to their health,” she added.
How have GP referrals been affected?

According to The Guardian, urgent referrals by GPs for cancer have fallen by as much as 76% and appointments for chemotherapy by 60% since the pandemic arrived in February.

Now, GP Online has reported that from a poll of 415 GPs, 30% said they have had an urgent referral rejected during the pandemic. These rejected referrals included two-week-wait referrals for suspected cancer as well as urgent referrals for investigations such as ECGs, echocardiograms and CT scans. GPs also highlighted concerns over delays to treatment for cancer, with respondents warning that breast cancer surgeries had been postponed or chemotherapy delayed.
How will delays impact prognosis?

In our work at Hudgell Solicitors we see the impact delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment have on a patient’s prognosis.

Early stage diagnosis can mean only in one area may need surgery, but extended delays running into weeks and months can allow cancer to grow to an advanced stage, and spread to other parts of the body, often leading to catastrophic circumstances.

Comments from Vince Shore

Sadly, over the past few weeks we have all become increasingly used to digesting horrifying death counts on a daily basis.

However, these 17,915 people still have plenty to live for and families that love them. Should they receive the treatment they need without long term delay, they could overcome their illnesses and live happy lives.

Macmillan Cancer Support has described the current situation as ‘extremely worrying’ and said cancer should not become “the forgotten C” during the coronavirus crisis.

That is a message we are sure each and every family currently touched by cancer, or any potentially serious illness, will 100% agree with.

For more information about Covid-19 and its impact on delayed diagnosis, contact Vince Shore.

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