Covid disrupted treatment for 30% of NHS cancer patients, survey shows

Almost three in 10 cancer patients had their treatment disrupted when the NHS suspended much of its normal care to focus on Covid-19, a survey shows.

Overall 29% of people receiving cancer care had a test, procedure or appointment delayed, cancelled or changed during the pandemic, Cancer Research UK found.

Some patients said they felt forgotten as the NHS prioritised treating those seriously ill with Covid. One person with breast cancer said: “I felt abandoned and in the dark.”

In addition, 67% of cancer patients said they felt more frustrated and 62% more anxious as a result of the pandemic. That could reflect the widespread disruption to testing and treatment or the extra risks faced by people with compromised immune systems from Covid.

“Covid-19 hit the health system hard and cancer services suffered as a result. But even before the pandemic struck cancer targets were not being met,” said Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.

“And now for the first time in decades we’re faced with the fact that cancer survival could go backwards.”

Despite NHS staff working tirelessly to maintain care for those with cancer, Covid-19 still had “a devastating impact on cancer services and cancer patients”, she said.

The pandemic has left cancer patients much less positive about their NHS care. Before Covid-19 struck 84% said their care was “very good”, but that figure has fallen to 60%, according to the survey of 900 people with cancer, which was undertaken between December and March.

Similarly, the proportion of people who said their care was “below average” has risen from less than 2% to 10% during the pandemic, and those calling it “average” from 5% to 11%.

However, 89% of patients praised the “safe spaces” that hospitals set up to try to keep their care free of Covid risks and 75% liked the care they had received at home and in the community.

The chief executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power, said patients awaiting all types of care had experienced difficulties.

“Since the start of the pandemic we have said that care must be maintained for all patients. Cancer Research UK’s findings are unsurprising and in line with what we’ve heard from patients,” she said.

“What Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, says about cancer care holds true for the care of so many patients, not just those with cancer.”

Cally Palmer, NHS England’s national director for cancer, said: “While facing unprecedented challenges, caring for more than 400,000 seriously ill people in hospital with Covid and delivering over 70m vaccines, the NHS continued to prioritise cancer throughout the pandemic and referral and treatment numbers are back to usual levels.

“Thanks to the huge efforts of staff and the introduction of new and innovative approaches, more than 350,000 people safely started cancer treatment over the pandemic.

“The NHS remains open and ready to care for you so it’s important that people experiencing cancer symptoms come forward and get checked.”

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