With NHS Trusts cancelling chemotherapy sessions and routine cancer operations to free up beds and nurses for Covid-19 patients, the immediate outlook was bleak for cancer sufferers.
The NHS has however now instructed local trusts to make arrangements with immediate effect for cancer sufferers to receive priority chemotherapy and radiotherapy at private sector and clinics to reduce delays in their treatment. However, non-urgent and elective surgical procedures and cancer screening programmes have been put on hold until the present emergency is over.
An NHS guide published in March to Cancer Consultants gives preference during the coronavirus emergency to priority treatment only for curable cancer patients; those who are dependent on immediate curative treatment or invasive surgery to provide at least a 50% chance of survival. The guide categorises patients into priority groups 1-6′. Categories 1 – 3 will be treated soonest. Those patients in categories 4-6 are at risk of non-treatment during the Coronavirus emergency.
- Priority level 1a: emergency operation needed within 24 hours to save life .
- priority level 1b: urgent operation needed with 72 hours •
- priority level 2: elective surgery/treatment with the expectation of cure needed within four weeks to save life/stop progression, taking into account symptoms and potential complications from lack of treatment •
- priority level 3: elective surgery can be delayed for 10 to 12 weeks and will have no predicted negative outcome.
- Priority level 4-6 Those patients who are receiving palliative cancer therapy with little chance of surviving more than a year are unlikely to receive NHS treatment during the coronavirus emergency.
The present emergency will cause the NHS to miss cancer waiting time targets. It will inevitably create a huge cancer treatment backlog and many patients have already had cancer treatment and surgery cancelled.
GP’s suspected Cancer referrals under the two-week wait system, fell by up to 70 per cent in March. Up to 2,000 GP cancer referrals are being missed every week during the Coronavirus emergency in UK, creating a future assessment backlog that will cause a significant problem for the NHS in the future.
Some NHS Trusts have put cancer screening and chemotherapy treatment on hold and it is thought that people with symptoms are not consulting their GP because they do not wish to overburden the NHS at this time, or are frightened of Covid-19 infection on a visit to hospital for a cancer scan.
Rutherford Cancer Centres
Coronavirus: St Mary’s, Primrose Hill.