The Daily Telegraph

‘Pandemic may cause 10,000 cancer deaths’

Researcher­s warn of lack of face-to-face care after patients putting off GP visit delays diagnoses

- By Laura Donnelly HEALTH EDITOR

The pandemic is likely to result in an extra 10,000 cancer deaths, according to a study which raises concerns about lack of access to face-to-face care. The University College London report said a lack of emergency referrals made by GPS since the first lockdown was likely to result in around 40,000 late diagnoses. Researcher­s said such delays, and longer waits for treatment, would mean 10,000 people would die of cancer “significan­tly earlier” than would otherwise have been the case.

THE pandemic is likely to result in an extra 10,000 cancer deaths, according to a study which raises concerns about lack of access to face-to-face care.

The report by University College London said a lack of emergency referrals made by GPS since the first lockdown was likely to result in around 40,000 late diagnoses.

Researcher­s said such delays, and longer waits for treatment, would mean 10,000 people would die of cancer “significan­tly earlier” than would otherwise have been the case. The study, which polled more than 2,000 adults, found almost two in three people were worried about bothering their GP about “minor health problems”.

It follows concern that the Government’s message to “Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” has meant many symptoms which should have been checked were never investigat­ed.

It also comes amid concern that too many patients are still struggling to get a face-to-face appointmen­t with a GP.

Before the pandemic around 80 per cent of GP appointmen­ts were in person. But just 57 per cent of consultati­ons were face to face in July, despite promises from health officials that all patients should be given a “clear offer of appointmen­ts in person”, with their preference­s respected.

The polling found that older people – the heaviest users of healthcare – were the least keen on remote appointmen­ts.

In total, 56 per cent of those aged 65 and over were opposed to more telephone and computer consultati­ons, while 24 per cent favoured them.

Among those aged 18 to 24, 46 per cent wanted to see more such appointmen­ts, while 28 per cent were opposed.

The polling also found three in four people wanted to undergo regular screening checks for cancer, when single blood tests become available.

The NHS has just launched the world’s biggest trial of a potentiall­y lifesaving blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear. Experts said the research showed the need to speed up plans for a network of diagnostic centres to ensure people could access checks quickly.

Prof David Taylor, report co-author from UCL School of Pharmacy, said: “There is some evidence to suggest every month treatment is delayed can increase the risk of early death by seven per cent. Some of it is about patients not presenting, worrying about being a burden on their GP, some of it is about access problems.”

Prof Taylor said that online and phone access to GPS was helpful for many simple problems, but the need for a clinical examinatio­n in person was greater in more complex cases.

Prof Mark Emberton, co-author and cancer clinician, said the report showed the need for more investment in cancer.

He said: “I strongly support the efforts being made to re-awaken public awareness of the value of early cancer diagnosis and to encourage people to report unusual symptoms to their doctors, even if they seem minor. But there is only so much this can achieve without more investment in better diagnostic services and optimal access to effective new treatments.”

An NHS spokespers­on said: “While some people were reluctant to come forward for care during the pandemic, the NHS continued to prioritise cancer care and actually services are back at pre-pandemic levels with latest monthly figures showing more than 200,000 people referred for checks and more than 27,000 starting treatment.

“GP appointmen­ts are also back up to pre-pandemic levels and every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointmen­ts and continuing to offer all of these methods is part of making primary care as accessible as possible.”

56 Percentage of those aged 65 and over who were opposed to more telephone and computer consultati­ons on health

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