Matt Hancock yesterday urged seriously ill patients to contact their GP amid fears that thousands of cancers are going undetected.
The Health Secretary stressed that the NHS was still open for anyone with non-coronavirus symptoms, especially those with suspected tumours, heart attacks and strokes.
His statement in the Commons came after the Daily Mail yesterday reported a warning by Cancer Research UK that 2,700 cancers a week are being undiagnosed.
The charity said patients were delaying seeing their GP with symptoms or missing out on screening programmes for early detection which have been suspended.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed that the NHS was still open for anyone with non-coronavirus symptoms, especially those with suspected tumours, heart attacks and strokes
Officials fear the NHS will face a huge backlog in cases when the Covid-19 outbreak is over, which will lead to some facing even longer waits for treatment.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I want to reinforce the message that non-Covid NHS services are open for patients. The NHS is there for you if you need advice and treatment.
‘I want to address very clearly this message to those who might be vulnerable to heart attacks or stroke, to parents of young children, to pregnant women and to people with concerns that they may have cancer.
‘People with non-coronavirus symptoms must still contact their GP. If you need urgent medical advice, use NHS 111 online or if you can’t get online, call 111. Of course, if it’s serious or life-threatening, call 999.
‘If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital. The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it. If you think you have a lump that might be cancer then you should come forward now and you will be safely and properly treated in the NHS.’
Cancer Research UK figures showed the numbers of patients being referred urgently to hospital with suspicious symptoms has dropped by 75 per cent since the start of the outbreak.
Sarah Woolnough, from Cancer Research UK, said cancer treatment was in a ‘precarious position’
At the same time screening programmes to detect breast, cervical and bowel tumours early have mostly been paused.
Separately, an organisation representing hospitals revealed that one unnamed trust which usually diagnosed 20 bowel cancers a month had so far confirmed none.
Sarah Woolnough, from Cancer Research UK, said cancer treatment was in a ‘precarious position’. She added: ‘The anticipated backlog of patients needing to be diagnosed and treated will have a lasting impact on the NHS’s ability to get all people through the system swiftly – and on cancer deaths.
‘We could be looking at thousands and thousands of patients who need to be diagnosed and treated, and millions who need catching up on screening, depending on how long services are disrupted.’
Steven McIntosh, from Macmillan Cancer Support, added: ‘There’s really worrying evidence that fewer people are coming forward and getting cancer symptoms diagnosed.
‘If you’ve experienced signs of cancer you must urgently contact your GP.’
Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said: ‘In the last day, one chief executive told us that their trust would normally diagnose 20 colorectal (bowel) cancers a month but so far this month had none. Another trust pointed to a significant decline in the number of cancer patients getting in touch, raising concerns that they may not be seeking the help they need.’
Professor Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist, has previously warned that the impact of the coronavirus outbreak could result in 50,000 cancer deaths.
Crucial tumour op cancelled with just a week’s warning
By Kamal Sultan
Beth Purvis, a 40-year-old mother of two, has stage-four bowel cancer that has spread to her lungs.
But an operation to remove a tumour from her right lung – scheduled for March 25 at the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea, London – was cancelled with only a week’s notice amid the coronavirus crisis.
Mrs Purvis said: ‘I was devastated, I just burst into tears. It is a critical operation because it can help buy me time and there is a small chance it might be cured.
Pictured: Beth Purvis, whose operation to remove a tumour in her right lung was cancelled with a week’s notice
‘If you leave the cancer, it has the opportunity to grow and spread further, I just do not know what it is going to do or how long it is safe to leave it for.’ The operation had offered her and her family some much-needed relief, said Mrs Purvis, from Bishops Stortford, Essex.
‘When you have stage four cancer, every time something pops up you just hope that you can treat it. Each treatment just gives you hope and all that hope had been wiped away.’
Mrs Purvis has now been offered stereotactic body radiotherapy which she was not eligible for before due to the number of tumours in her lungs.
Her doctors feel it is a safer option than surgery because of the risk of catching coronavirus in hospital. She said: ‘It may actually turn out to be a better option in the long run.’
Mrs Purvis said she understood why the decision to cancel her surgery was made, adding: ‘It is a really difficult situation because those of us waiting for operations will probably last a few weeks or months without our operations. Logically and rationally, I understand the decision but emotionally I am completely drained.’
Mrs Purvis said she and husband Richard, a painter and decorator, were up front with their children, Joseph 11, and Abigail, ten. She added: ‘Their worlds have been turned upside down.’