While plans to redeploy two Nightingale Hospitals in England (Harrogate and Exeter) for testing are a small positive step, they are expected to focus on CT scans and blood tests so will do little to diminish the endoscopy delays.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re over the peak of the pandemic now, so it’s worrying there is an increasing number of patients whose lives are on pause while they wait for tests that could impact their chances of survival.
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“It’s crucial the Government works closely with the NHS to ensure it has the staff and equipment it needs to get services back on track before this situation gets even worse. But part of the reason the number of tests has reduced so dramatically is that people are delaying seeking help if they are worried about symptoms. So it’s more important than ever that anyone who is concerned about a change to their body speaks to their GP as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, cancer patients have been disadvantaged by the pandemic in many ways. UK cancer research could be set back years by COVID-19 as we could be forced to cut £150 million per year from our research funding. Our mission to beat cancer has never been more urgent and it’s only with the public’s help that we’ll be able to continue funding our vital research and keep patients’ needs on the agenda.”
While many patients referred for tests may not turn out to have cancer, they still face an anxious wait. For those that do, delays may mean their cancer is more advanced and therefore harder to treat, reducing their chances of survival.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician said: “Even in ‘peace-time’ diagnostic testing was stretched to the limit, so the NHS faces a massive challenge to fast-track the millions of people waiting to find out if they have cancer.
“An essential part of this is frequent COVID-19 testing of NHS staff and patients, including those without symptoms, so that vulnerable patients aren’t put at risk of contracting the virus and aren’t nervous about going to hospital. We need a clear and detailed plan in place to ensure increased capacity to diagnose cancer across the country to avoid further delays.
“Above all, anyone worrying about symptoms, should not be deterred from seeking help and should contact their GP.”
Cancer Research UK has launched a new campaign to highlight the devastating impact of COVID-19 on its life-saving work, and the vital need for support from the public to continue its research.