A leading charity has warned of a potential cancer ‘timebomb’ in the UK following the disruption to diagnosis, treatment, and care for tens of thousands of people due to coronavirus.
Macmillan Cancer Support has issued a stark warning to ensure cancer does not become ‘the forgotten ‘C” during the coronavirus pandemic as the latest figures suggest, with the fall in Covid-19 deaths, that cancer is expected to shortly return as the leading cause of death in the UK.
Macmillan is calling on UK governments to set out clear plans for restoring cancer care that clarify how cancer patients will have access to timely diagnosis and treatment, with surge capacity to catch up on the backlog of care coronavirus has caused.
People living with cancer across the UK are living in very uncertain times, with many having seen their treatment plans put on hold or changed. The serious anxiety this can cause cannot be overstated and urgent action is needed to get things back on track.
- A study by University College London showed several hospitals across England and Northern Ireland reporting an average 60 per cent drop in people attending chemotherapy appointments during the coronavirus crisis.
- A survey of 100 cancer patients who support Macmillan’s campaigning work showed almost half (45%) had seen their cancer treatment delayed, cancelled or changed as a result of coronavirus.
New analysis by Macmillan also shows that the UK is second only to Spain when it comes to people with cancer avoiding hospitals and other healthcare settings because of the coronavirus. An international study by YouGov and Imperial College of London found that during April, three in four people with cancer in the UK (77%) said they had completely avoided medical settings in the previous week, which equates to more than two million people with cancer across the UK.
The charity is concerned that the combination of a predicted build-up of those waiting for treatment, together with fewer people being seen for suspected cancer due to coronavirus, could result in a notable increase in the number of people dying from cancer.
In Scotland, for example, official figures show the number of people dying from cancer is already 5% higher than average since the UK lockdown began. In England and Wales, Macmillan analysis of official data showed there were at least 500 more deaths from cancer than average in March and April alone.
The charity also estimates that reported disruptions in urgent GP referrals and national screening programmes could mean as many as 1,900 cases of cancer a week are currently going undiagnosed across the UK and is urging everyone to contact their GP if they notice something that’s not normal for them.
As a result of coronavirus, Macmillan saw a rise in demand for a number of its services and has launched new virtual ones – such as telephone buddying and an online health and wellbeing offer – to prevent people with cancer from falling through the cracks. However, the charity is facing an income loss of up to 50% for this year and is appealing to the public for funds.
Steven McIntosh, Director of Policy Campaigns and Influencing at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
“Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the progress we were making in the UK to improve cancer care. It has created a ticking timebomb of undiagnosed and untreated cancer, which is leaving people with cancer living in fear.
“We need urgent action to address the uncertainty of delayed cancer services and prevent Coronavirus resulting in a serious spike in cancer deaths. UK governments must rapidly restore cancer care and deal with the backlog in treatment whilst keeping staff and patients safe during the pandemic.
“This is an incredibly anxious time for many people with cancer and we are doing all we can to support them, but we cannot do it alone. Our services are busier than ever, and we are facing an unprecedented and steep fall in public donations.
“Cancer must not become the ‘forgotten ‘C” during this pandemic. UK Governments need to each set out a clear path forward for rebuilding our cancer services.”
Macmillan needs your help more than ever before to be there for people living with cancer. To join Macmillan’s campaign to make sure cancer doesn’t become the ‘forgotten C’ and to donate to Macmillan’s emergency fundraising appeal visit macmillan.org.uk.