Search for missing cancer cases

A desperate search is on to find the “missing population” suffering from cancer who may have put off NHS appointments because of the COVID pandemic.

The NHS clinical commissioning group for Mid and South Essex, which funds frontline healthcare, was told diagnosis of cancer has dropped significantly since the COVID .

Karen Wesson, director of commissioning, performance and emergency planning, said the focus was now on finding those who may be suffering from cancers.

She said: “There’s been a significant drop for cancers during the COVID pandemic and what they are looking to is how they come up with systems to try and promote that people aren’t sitting at home with symptoms that should be referred.

“The only one that stayed about the same level was lung cancer and, they think by default, it would have been picked up by concerns around COVID and would have been referred on a COVID pathway whereas some of the others, particularly bladder, prostate, some breast and gynae cancers may have been missed because of that fear of going to hospital in the pandemic but there is going to be a big piece of work looking at trying to find that missing population.”

Dr Anna Davey, chairman of the joint committee, said doctors had been advised to limit blood tests which could also hamper diagnosis of serious illness.

She said: “Not infrequently we pick up patients on routine chronic disease monitoring bloods.

“The most obvious one being the full blood count for diabetic checks which can highlight asymptomatic anaemia and I have, every few months, a patient with a upper or lower GI cancer who is picked up through a routine blood test done as part of diabetic monitoring.

“It just highlights that general practise ticking along behind the scenes trying to do chronic disease monitoring is helping to identify otherwise asymptomatic cancers. This is going to be impacted by this request to reduce all non-urgent blood testing.

“It’s a dilemma and I don’t have a solution but I’m raising it as a concern.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter