Expert warns delaying cancer treatment for Covid will cost lives

Top expert warns delaying cancer treatment for Covid will ‘quite simply’ cost lives as she says NHS is ‘over-prioritising’ the virus – after figures showed hospitals are treating fewer than HALF the normal number of cancer patients amid winter wave

  • NHS in London treated just 122 cancer patients last week and 100 in private beds
  • Capital needs to treat over 500 patients a week to remain on top of demand
  • Professor Clare Turnbull said delayed cancer care would result in more deaths

Professor Clare Turnbull, from the Institute of Cancer Research and an NHS consultant in clinical cancer genetics, warned today that delaying cancer treatment to focus on coronavirus will ‘quite simply’ cost lives

A top expert warned today that delaying cancer treatment to focus on coronavirus will ‘quite simply’ cost lives, after it emerged the NHS is seeing fewer than half the number of cancer patients it normally would.

Professor Clare Turnbull, of the Institute of Cancer Research and an NHS consultant in clinical cancer genetics, said patients with the disease were being left behind as hospitals ‘over-prioritised’ Covid-19. 

Her comments come as hotspot hospitals start to scrap cancer treatment to focus efforts on tackling the winter wave of Covid admissions pouring into wards. 

Figures leaked yesterday showed NHS hospitals in London treated just 122 cancer patients last week, while 101 were seen in private hospitals. The capital needs to treat more than 500 cancer patients a week to remain on top of demand, according to the NHS’ cancer resilience plans.

Professor Turnbull told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I think unfortunately there has been a lot of collateral consequence in other areas of healthcare on account of Covid-19 crisis.

‘Although delaying hip replacements or cataract surgery means people are suffering unpleasant symptoms longer, delaying cancer surgery can quite simply be the difference between life and death.’

Asked if the NHS was ‘over-prioritising’ coronavirus at the expense of cancer care, Professor Turnbull added: ‘A lot of us in the cancer community would argue for that.’ 

It comes after Professor Chris Whitty today warned the next few weeks are set to be the worst yet for the NHS, with the Government having begged people not to ‘push the boundaries’ of the lockdown.

More than 3,800 cancer patients in London have waited more than two months for their first treatment, as the number of non-Covid patients in Britain’s hospitals fell by 10,000 in less than a month, new figures reveal

As well as struggling with record numbers of Covid patients, the NHS is also dealing with record staff absences.

About 46,000 medics are off sick with coronavirus, according to the Doctor’s Association. Another 40,000 — equating to around a tenth of the total workforce —are absent for other reasons.

Separate figures have also revealed three times as many frontline health workers are currently off sick compared to the average for this time of year.  

It has meant that vital services have had to be scrapped, particularly in London and the South East where the new, highly-infectious Covid strain has taken hold.

The Sunday Telegraph also revealed there were 3,840 cancer patients in London that have been waiting more than two months for their first treatment. 

As of January 5, there were 56,126 non-Covid patients in general and acute beds, compared to 19,878 patients with the virus.

Craig Stevens was due to have treatment for his stage three skin cancer this month but his operation has been postponed indefinitely 

The NHS is in the most dangerous situation in history, Chris Whitty warns 

The chief medical officer took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat

Chris Whitty today warned the next few weeks are set to be the worst yet for the NHS as the government begs people not to ‘push the boundaries’ of the lockdown – and threatens to make it even tougher.

The chief medical officer took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat, saying that there are 30,000 people in hospital compared to the peak of 18,000 in April.

Amid a crackdown on stopping to chat in the street and in shops, Prof Whitty urged people to remember that ‘every unnecessary contact’ was an opportunity for the virus to spread.

He insisted that although the NHS was in the ‘most dangerous situation anyone can remember’ vaccines mean the UK can be back to normal in ‘months not years’ – but he cautioned that the situation is a long way from that currently.

The intervention came amid fears that the number of daily deaths is on track to rise to 2,000, with Boris Johnson looking at tightening the national lockdown rules even more dramatically if cases keep surging.

A Whitehall source told MailOnline ministers have discussed going as far as saying people can only leave the house once a week – although No10 today denied this was on the cards saying the focus was on ‘bolstering enforcement and policing’. Other ideas include compulsory mask-wearing outdoors and a ban on extended bubbles.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that shops are in the firing line, stressing the need for everyone to wear masks and follow one-way systems in supermarkets. He appealed for people not to stop and chat to friends they bump into while outside their homes – and also made clear that sitting on park benches during ‘exercise’ sessions was not recommended.

Limits on individuals from different households exercising together also look to be in the pipeline as the government scrambles for ways of lowering transmission.

Prof Whitty told BBC Breakfast: ‘We have a very significant problem. The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of the numbers into the NHS.’

He added: ‘This is everybody’s problem.’

Prof Whitty said: ‘This is the most dangerous time we have really had in terms of numbers into the NHS at this particular time.’

In December there were 65,324 patients without coronavirus in Britain’s hospitals and 11,334 with Covid. Across the country, there are 32,294 patients in hospital with Covid as of Friday. 

Sarah Joel, from Cambridge, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June after first presenting with symptoms in March.

Despite being ‘urgently referred’ for vital checks and scans, she had to wait three months to confirm she had the deadly virus. 

Catching cancer in its early stages is crucial to boosting survival. 

If bowel cancer is diagnosed at a localised stage, the survival rate is 90 per cent. But if it is able to spread to surrounding tissues or organs, this drops to 70 per cent, according to 

Ms Joel was due to have surgery to remove part of her liver to prevent the tumour from spreading.

But on New Year’s Eve she received a call to say it had been cancelled at the last minute, which she described as ‘completely devastating’.

She told the Today programme she had to make ‘frantic calls’ to try to get her treatment plan back on track but is still waiting to hear when she’ll get the crucial operation

Craig Stevens was diagnosed with stage three skin cancer last month and was assured surgery would take place at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital this month.

But surgeons this week told the 43-year-old there was now no indication of when it would be carried out. 

He says they told him they are used to getting theatre availability once a day but theatre slots were becoming increasingly scarce due to demand.

The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, confirmed some procedures could be delayed ‘due to the large and increasing number of very sick patients we are caring for’.

Craig, who lives in Edgbaston and works in financial services, has lodged a formal complaint but said he feared the delay would cost him his life.

He said the complaint was not against the doctors or surgeons but about the failure to manage the situation.

He told BirminghamLive: ‘I was told the cancer will spread if they take no action and operate. This stalling could cost me my life.

‘I am shocked, appalled, and worried to death about my prospects going forward. I have been turned away from the hospital with no hope and date of treatment and operation. I have written a letter of formal complaint to the hospital.

‘This is not a complaint against any of the doctors or surgeons I have seen, it is about the failure to manage this situation, which I consider to be gross negligence. Basically, they are putting my life at risk.

‘There must be lots of other people in the same position as me. I know we are in the middle of a pandemic but Covid is not the only disease which is taking people’s lives.’

Craig was diagnosed with grade 3 skin melanoma on December 7. The cancer is in his lymph nodes and under his arm and neck.

He said two surgeons assured him on December 17 his operation would take place in January due to the severity of the cancer and a 31 day target from diagnosis to treatment.

But he said he was told on Thursday, January 7, that no date was available and there was no indication as to when it would take place.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We are working to ensure urgent treatments and cancer surgery are maintained as far as possible for patients, however some procedures and surgical activity may be delayed due to the large and increasing number of very sick patients we are caring for.

‘We regret that any procedure must be delayed and apologise for the understandable distress this can cause.’

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