Around 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, further tests or cancer treatment according to a new analysis by Cancer Research UK.
Covid-19 has caused enormous disruption to cancer services across the UK, including delays to cancer treatment, screening and diagnosis, and huge decreases in patients being urgently referred to hospital with suspected cancer symptoms.
Delays to cancer screening have had the biggest impact on the total number, with a backlog of around 2.1 million people left waiting for breast, bowel or cervical screening. During this time, 3,800 cancers would normally be diagnosed through screening.
Oncology staff needed to be regularly tested for Covid-19
The charity says that 'Covid-protected’ safe spaces will be a crucial part of addressing the growing backlog and ensuring more people can safely receive treatment or be diagnosed quickly. But this will only be possible if all cancer patients and healthcare staff – whether symptomatic or asymptomatic – are tested regularly for Covid-19.
Cancer Research UK has estimated that to test patients ahead of hospital appointments and cancer staff weekly, between 21,000 and 37,000 Cpvid-19 tests must be done each day across the UK. This means that doctors and nurses can care for their patients in a safe, ‘COVID-protected’ environment.
A clear national plan for testing is needed to support the effective recovery and restoration of cancer services.
Covid-19 has put huge strain on cancer services
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “My colleagues and I have seen the devastating impact this pandemic has had on both patients and NHS staff. Delays to diagnosis and treatment could mean that some cancers will become inoperable. Patients shouldn’t need to wait for this to be over before getting the treatment they need.
“We can create a safer environment for both staff and cancer patients if testing efforts ramp up quickly with test results delivered back within 24 hours or less. We know that carrying COVID-19 while asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic is a major concern where healthcare worker staff and patients can transmit infection.
“We need at least weekly testing of healthcare workers and elective admissions to protect patients and staff from future spread and hospital-related complications. Staff in hospitals around the country are working extremely hard and with more testing of staff and patients - with and without symptoms - we will have hospitals and centres protected from Covid-19 where patients can be treated safely.”