Pandemic May Have Hurt U.K. Urgent Cancer Care, Survey Suggests
Coronavirus patients, who are taking part in a TACTIC-R trial, hold hands during a short visit at the Addenbrooke’s Hospital, operated by the Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, in Cambridge, U.K. (Photographer: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images/Bloomberg)

Pandemic May Have Hurt U.K. Urgent Cancer Care, Survey Suggests

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U.K. patients with suspected cancers are being turned down more frequently for urgent appointments to see specialists and confirm their diagnosis since the pandemic started, according to a survey of doctors.

About a quarter of GPs surveyed said hospitals had inappropriately refused referrals more often during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a report from non-profit Cancer Research UK. This was probably the result of a lack of capacity and reduced access to diagnostic tests within hospitals, as well as a possible attempt to reduce patients’ exposure to Covid-19, it said.

Cancer referrals dropped by 75% in some areas at the peak of the pandemic, Cancer Research UK said. This was mainly because people didn’t come forward with symptoms to reduce their risk of exposure and to follow government advice to stay home and protect the National Health Service. However, the survey of more than 1,000 GPs showed that rejection of referrals was also part of the problem.

The situation is “deeply concerning,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive officer of Cancer Research UK, in a statement.

It may take up to two years for referrals to return to normal, said Richard Roope, senior clinical adviser for Cancer Research UK, in a telephone interview. The concern is that there could be many patients at home with cancer who have slipped through the cracks.

To address the backlog in screenings, some of the U.K.’s so-called Nightingale field hospitals are being converted into cancer testing centers, according to the report. Named after Florence Nightingale, these hospitals were assembled as one of the country’s main tools to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Diagnostic processes have been forced to become faster and more efficient because of reduced capacity, according to Roope.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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