Chemotherapy buses are to be rolled out by the NHS to ease the backlog of patients requiring cancer treatment.
NHS England said hospitals had expanded treatment options by fast-tracking the use of ‘chemo buses’, allowing potentially life-saving care to be provided without patients travelling long distances.
Around 30,000 people were said to have started treatment during March, but other forms of treatment which weaken the immune system have been halted until the pandemic passes.
Four cancer buses have so far been deployed, based in North Middlesex University Hospital in London and Airedale NHS Trust in Yorkshire, NHS England said.
Around 60 sessions a day can be carried out across the four vehicles with space for chemo to be delivered to four patients on each bus at a time.
It comes amid growing concern that the NHS will be contending with a huge backlog of postponed appointments, treatments and procedures after lockdown is lifted.
Social distancing measures in hospitals may also mean the health service is able to complete fewer appointments a day as routine care resumes.
Cancer Research UK said at the end of May that 2.4 million patients had missed appointments or tests due to Covid-19.
Downing Street said private hospitals were now being used to help to clear the backlog of NHS cases that have built up in recent months.
In response to claims from NHS Confederation that around 10 million people will be on the waiting list for NHS treatment by the end of the year, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We reached agreements with private hospitals at the beginning of the outbreak to ensure that we had the potential for surge capacity for coronavirus patients.
“With the number of cases falling, these private hospitals are now helping to bring back wider NHS services.”
NHS England has also announced that it will be increasing the use of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) which requires fewer doses than standard radiotherapy.
It is hoped the treatment will cut the number of hospital visits potentially vulnerable cancer patients need to make, the service said.
Hospitals were also said to have “significantly increased the use of chemo at home”, with the number of patients being treated at home by the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool increasing 15 per cent during the pandemic.
Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, said: “While the NHS has pulled out all the stops to care for nearly 100,000 older and vulnerable patients who have needed emergency hospital treatment for Covid-19, staff have also worked hard to sustain other services including A&E, maternity care and treatment for urgent and emergency conditions.
“While it’s perhaps unsurprising that as covid19 peaked in April there was a large drop in the number of people coming forward for check ups, now is the time to do so where people have a concern.
“Hospitals are going to great lengths to deliver care and treatment for patients in a safe space, from online consultations to chemo buses and covid free surgical hubs. The NHS is also accelerating access to new treatment options, including SABR – a potentially life-saving form of precision radiotherapy for people with cancer.”