COVID-19 delays cancer care

by Peter Blackburn

Thousands of cancer patients have not received the care they need and their conditions may have worsened owing to the focus on COVID-19.

Location: UK
Published: Friday 12 June 2020

Performance figures, published by the NHS on 11 June, reveal the number of cancer patients being seen for urgent check-up after GP referral fell to 79,500 in April – a drop of 60 per cent from the previous year.

Patients starting treatment for cancer in April also fell by 20 per cent from the previous year to 10,800.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said the statistics laid bare the ‘brutal impact’ COVID-19 has had on healthcare services and patient care – and confirmed the fears of doctors that patients will not have received the care they need and conditions could have worsened.

The figures also show that the median average wait for treatment rose in April 2020 to 12.2 weeks compared with 8.9 weeks in March and 7.2 weeks in April 2019. And, at the end of April, 11,042 people had been waiting more than 52 weeks, or one year, for treatment – a massive 10-fold rise from the previous year. 

Demand management

Portrait of BMA chair Chaand Nagpaul NAGPAUL:'The longer the backlog persists, patients' conditions will grow more acute'

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘It is vital that services resume as soon as possible and that the Government provides the NHS with the support, resources and capacity for this to happen safely whilst the pandemic continues. The longer the backlog persists, patients’ conditions will grow more acute or go undiagnosed.’

He added: ‘Worryingly, more than two thirds of doctors who responded to a recent BMA survey said they had either little or no confidence that the expected demand could be properly managed.

'As such, we need meaningful conversations between Government and frontline clinicians about how we can, together, begin to tackle the backlog. This will require transparency around capacity and the workforce crisis, and the need to invest in infrastructure that can meet the healthcare needs of patients.’

The BMA has also raised concerns about the length of time taken for this data – which covers April – to be published.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The Government must also commit to publishing comprehensive and timely data, including the datasets which have been paused throughout COVID-19, and provide a clear picture of the state of the workforce which will be crucial going forward.’