New data shows coronavirus has wreaked ‘havoc on cancer care’ in Essex

The number of people seeing a specialist for suspected cancer after an urgent GP referral is half what would normally be expected prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Soaring waiting lists and plummeting numbers of people receiving treatment show the “brutal impact” COVID-19 has had on the NHS.

Strikingly the number of people seeing a consultant after an urgent cancer referral from their GP also fell dramatically in April to 3,532, compared to 7,977 in April 2019.

GPs had been asked in March to prioritise particularly urgent referrals and downgrade or avoid referrals where possible.

There were also drops in the number of people starting treatment – down from 568 in April 2019 to 431 in April this year for those who had been referred urgently, and from 1,012 to 715 for those not urgently referred.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Today’s cancer waiting time results are a sobering demonstration of the serious impact coronavirus has had on cancer services across England.

“The pandemic has wreaked havoc on cancer care, with 2,500 fewer people starting vital treatment to save, extend or improve their lives and a staggering 130,000 fewer seeing a specialist for suspected cancer after an urgent GP referral, than we would expect under normal circumstances.

“Instead, many people with cancer are being left to wait for next steps in fear, worrying about the long-term implications for their health, their families and their future.”

Across hospitals serving Essex, there were 51,929 people on the waiting list for elective treatments, such as hip and knee operations, at the end of April.

That was a 48 per cent jump in a month, from 35,083 in March, and nearly triple the 19,589 waiting in April last year.

Doctors have expressed concerns people with serious conditions have been put off attending A&E due to COVID-19 fears.

The number of A&E attendances in Essex had dropped to 29,176 in April, before recovering slightly in May to a total of 40,972 – but they are still down compared to 61,688 visits in April last year.

British Medical Association council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “These NHS performance figures lay bare the brutal impact of Covid-19 on our healthcare services and patient care.

“They show only the early weeks of the pandemic but, nonetheless, they confirm the fears of doctors that significant numbers of patients will not have received the care needed and that their conditions could have worsened.

“The shocking drop in the number of GP referrals for cancer treatment – down 60 per cent from last year, and GP referrals to specialist care – down three quarters from last year, is incredibly concerning.

“The staggering reduction in patients attending A&E is of great concern, meaning that patients with emergencies are not being treated at a time when overall excess mortality in the UK is amongst the highest in Europe.”

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]