More than a quarter of a million urgent cancer referrals were missed due to coronavirus, a new report suggests, which predicts a drop in survival chances.
Analysis by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the 43 per cent year-on-year reduction between April and June is likely to wipe out almost a decade of progress saving lives.
The think tank points to drastic reductions not only in the urgent GP referral, whereby a patient is supposed see a cancer specialist within two weeks if a family doctor suspects the disease, but also diagnostic testing such as CT and MRI scans.
It warns the disruption to early diagnosis – crucial for improving survival chances – could leave the UK even further behind comparable European countries.
GPs made 339,242 urgent cancer referrals in England between April and June, down from 594,060 in the same period last year.
Modelling by the IPPR predicts that because of this the five-year survival rate for breast cancer will drop from 85 to 83.5 per cent, from 58.4 to 56.1 per cent for colorectal cancer, and from 16.2 per cent to 15.4 per cent for lung cancer.
Harry Quilter-Pinner, IPPR associate director, said: “The pandemic has been devastating, not just for families directly impacted by Covid-19 but also for those with loved ones suffering from other health conditions.
“Our analysis shows that thousands could die early of conditions such as cancer as a result of the lockdown in NHS services.
“The government must make it a top priority to restart cancer services and ensure they are resilient for a potential second wave of Covid-19.”
As the pandemic approached in February and March, ministers and officials initially promised that cancer services would be unaffected.
However, there were soon numerous reports of cancelled clinics, with some patients saying treatments such as chemotherapy had been postponed indefinitely.
Just before lockdown was introduced on March 23 the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, which decides what services the NHS must offer, advised cancer patients, many of whom have compromised immune systems, to balance the risk of delaying treatment with that of catching Covid whilst in hospital.