Balancing Covid-19 and the Cancer Backlog

This year the spotlight has been on clearing the cancer backlog. In June and July, things were starting to look up for the NHS. However, in recent months, cancer treatment services are struggling to keep up.  

The number of people receiving their first cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral increased to 73.3% in June, but then fell to 70.7% in September, according to statistics from the British Medical Association

Data also shows that in August, the number of patients forced to wait more than two months to start treatment following an urgent referral was record-high.

The NHS has been working hard to balance the urgent demand for treatment with the harsh reality that the virus is here to stay. 

Why is the NHS still struggling to tackle the backlog?

As the increasing number of Covid-19 patients puts pressure on health services, the ability to keep up with the cancer backlog becomes very difficult. 

Analysis from Macmillian Cancer Support suggests that the difficulty is intensified by staff shortages, high Covid cases, and a shortage of specialist cancer nurses.

 “It is extremely concerning to see signs that progress with clearing the cancer treatment backlog may have already started to falter. If the fragile cancer recovery now starts going backwards, the backlog will only continue to grow and people’s chances of survival will once again potentially worsen.” Said Minesh Patel, the head of policy at Macmillan. 

Taking the pressure off hospitals and urgent care centres

In an effort to keep the number of hospitalizations low and allow hospitals to focus on Covid-19 patients, the NHS is launching 40 new community diagnostic centres.

The new centres will provide checks, scans and tests in local settings ranging from shopping centres to football stadiums. Backed by a £350 million investment from the government, they are aiming to complete around 2.8 million scans in the opening year.  

The government has listed what they hope the centres will achieve:

• earlier diagnoses for patients through easier, faster, and more direct access to the full range of diagnostic tests needed to understand patients’ symptoms including breathlessness, cancer, ophthalmology.

• a reduction in hospital visits which will help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

• a reduction in waits by diverting patients away from hospitals, allowing them to treat urgent patients, while the community diagnostic centres focus on tackling the backlog.

• a contribution to the NHS’s net-zero ambitions by providing multiple tests at one visit, reducing the number of patient journeys and helping to cut carbon emissions and air pollution.

Hopefully, this will limit the number of appointments cancelled due to Covid-19 and allow patients to receive care closer to home, instead of travelling to hospital. 

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, said:

“Tackling waiting lists will require new and more innovative ways of delivering the services people need. That is why we’re making it easier and more convenient to get checked.

Our new community diagnostic centres will bring those crucial tests closer to home including in the communities that need them most. They will help enable earlier diagnosis, allowing us to catch cancer and other issues as quickly as possible, and save more lives.”

Some centres will begin offering services within the next six months, and all forty centres will be up and running by March 2022. 

Early Detection Saves Lives

We hope that these new centres will help clear the cancer backlog and the government will continue prioritizing cancer diagnosis and treatment.

To help enable earlier detection, we are working hard to make our PanTum Detect test available in the UK. We are currently discussing potential partnerships with labs and clinics around the UK. 

PanTum Detect can detect all cancers via a simple blood test, which makes it affordable and accessible to have in a primary care setting. To learn more about PanTum Detect, please have a read of our whitepaper.

If you would like to partner with RMDM or ask us a question about PanTum Detect, please get in touch via our contact form.

 

References:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/40-community-diagnostic-centres-launching-across-england

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/oct/22/cancer-patients-face-perfect-storm-as-covid-piles-pressure-on-nhs

https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/pressures/pressure-points-in-the-nhs