Devastating effects of Covid on Wigan cancer sufferers
The number of cancer patients admitted to Wigan hospitals as emergency cases hit a record high last summer, figures show.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the rising number of cancer patients across England arriving at hospitals via A&E or other urgent routes showed the “devastating” effect of Covid-19 on cancer care.
Public Health England data shows 112 people with newly identified tumours were admitted to hospital inpatient wards as an emergency in the NHS Wigan Borough CCG area in the three months to September.
That was up from 95 between July and September 2019, and the highest number for the period since comparable records began in 2010.
It was also an increase from 97 between April and June.
Patients are commonly admitted as emergency cases via A&E, or after an emergency referral by their GP, but can arrive through other routes.
People who have their cancer diagnosed this way are significantly less likely to survive on average, as it is often more advanced.
The figures count all invasive forms of the disease except non-melanoma skin cancer, and can include admissions with a suspicion of a tumour.
Including all referral types, there were 357 first inpatient admissions for cancer in the three months to September – down from 404 during the same period in 2019.
It means around 31 per cent of admissions were listed as emergencies, compared to 24 per cent a year earlier.
Across England, nearly 14,500 newly admitted cancer inpatients were emergency cases between July and September, more than any three-month period on record.
Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan, said the figures showed “the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on cancer care”.
“So far, the Government has failed to show how it will deliver the staffing and resources needed to clear the backlog of people waiting for a diagnosis and treatment,” she added.
“They must urgently put this right so that people living with cancer get the care they need and do not become forgotten amid this pandemic.”
Cancer Research UK said the rising proportion of cancer patients across England who were admitted as emergency cases during the early months of the pandemic was mainly driven by a drop in the number of overall admissions.
It said this was because people were more reluctant to visit their GP during the first wave of the virus, which meant that non-emergency admissions decreased.
“The NHS has worked hard to protect cancer services where possible,” said the charity’s head of policy Kruti Shrotri. “But it will have to operate well above pre-pandemic levels to make sure people get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, and ensure we don’t see more people showing up at A&E in the coming months.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Despite confronting enormous pressure, the NHS has continued to treat cancer patients as a priority, with 1.86 million urgent referrals and over 477,000 people receiving cancer treatment between March 2020 and January 2021.
“We continue to urge people to come forward to their GP if they have symptoms and as part of our additional investment in the NHS, an extra £1 billion is being used to boost diagnosis and treatment across all areas of elective care in the year ahead.”
People on waiting lists were urged to contact their GP if their condition had worsened so they could be made a higher priority.
Across Wigan, people are being reminded to seek medical help if they are unwell, particularly as some issues can be life-threatening.
Dr Sanjay Arya said: “In the first phase of the pandemic and even the second phase, people with heart attacks, strokes, kidney issues were not coming and seeking help, which was causing harm.
“We want to send out the message that hospital is safe and it still remains safe for patients with these conditions.”
He said there were separate areas for patients with and without coronavirus and other measures were in place.
People are also encouraged to go to GP surgeries for help, as well as for routine checks such as smear tests.
Thank you for reading. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription. Thanks again.