Fifty leaders from across the NHS and cancer community have written to the First Ministers of the devolved nations and to the Prime Minister calling on them to stand by their commitments to improve cancer survival throughout the covid-19 crisis.
Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has said it fears the backlog of patients waiting for treatment – built up during the first wave of the virus – will lead to reduced survival rates.
Nearly eight months since the first UK-wide lockdown, the charity says there is now a much clearer understanding of the impact the pandemic has had on cancer care.
In a statement accompanying the open letter, CRUK warns there are lessons that must be learned from the first wave of covid-19 as cases rise once more:
‘Cancer patients – and those who think they might have cancer – have already faced huge challenges this year with many worried about coming forward to their GP or going into hospital to get tests because of the risk of getting covid-19.
‘And, with a huge backlog of patients still waiting for screening, diagnostic tests and treatments, we fear that there will be a negative impact on cancer survival.’
The charity added: ‘The impact was felt right across the cancer pathway, with over three million people across the UK not able to go for cancer screening and thousands fewer people referred for tests for suspected cancer compared to normal.
‘Over 30,000 fewer people started their treatment than the same time last year too, and most cancer clinical trials were disrupted.
‘Because of the hard work of our amazing NHS staff, cancer services are getting back up and running and the situation is improving. The numbers of people being urgently referred for suspected cancer are almost back to the levels seen at the same time last year.
‘…But challenges still exist. For some cancer types, such as lung cancer or urological cancers, referral numbers are still well below where they were last year.
‘While trials are getting back up and running, this is happening slower than we would like. And even with increasing activity, there’s still huge numbers of people waiting for screening, diagnosis and treatment.
‘So it’s vital that cancer services and clinical trials can continue to recover and not go backwards again as covid-19 cases rise again.’
A new cancer recovery plan, which will supersede the current cancer strategy in Scotland and aid in the recovery and redesign of cancer services, is being finalised and expected to be published before the end of this year.
The open letter comes as the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee call for an urgent investigation of the impact of cancelling non-covid care earlier this year to see whether such action should be taken again if virus cases continue to rise.
By Sarah Nimmo.