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Scientists: Delays to surgery during coronavirus crisis could lead to 4,755 more deaths from cancer

Delays to surgery during coronavirus crisis could lead to 4,755 more deaths from cancer, scientists warn

  • Deaths would be a result of delays to surgery because of coronavirus pandemic
  • Hospitals braced for leap in referrals from GPs when lockdown measures ease
  • Researchers warn surge could lead to a ‘swamping’ of the system over summer 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

An extra 4,755 cancer patients will die early due to delays to surgery during the coronavirus pandemic, scientists predict.

Hospitals are bracing themselves for a leap in cancer referrals from GPs when lockdown measures are eased in the next few months.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research in London warn the surge could lead to a ‘swamping’ of the system over the summer – with further delays as a result.

Study leader Professor Clare Turnbull said: ‘The Covid-19 crisis has put enormous pressure on the NHS at every stage of the cancer pathway, from diagnosis right across to surgery and other forms of treatment. 

An extra 4,755 cancer patients will die early due to delays to surgery during the coronavirus pandemic, scientists predict

‘Our study shows the impact that delay to cancer treatment will have on patients, with England, and the UK more widely, potentially set for many thousands of attributable cancer deaths as a result of the pandemic.’

The NHS told doctors in March to prioritise cancer patients for treatment.

Professor Turnbull said it was not clear yet how many operations had been cancelled in the last two months, but added that delays have not been as severe as expected.

‘We didn’t see the competition for intensive care beds and anaesthetists that we expected because everyone did as they were told and stayed at home. 

‘But the real impact will come in July, August and September.

‘There has been a 25 to 75 per cent reduction in cancer referrals between March and May. 

‘When these patients arrive the anticipation is that this will swamp the system. 

‘The totality of that means there will be thousands of extra deaths over the next five years.’

Her team calculated that if all 94,912 patients – the number of those who would usually have surgery to remove their cancer over the course of a year in England – had a three-month delay, there would be an additional 4,755 deaths in the next five years.

Taking into account the length of time that patients are expected to live after surgery, the delay would amount to 92,214 years of life lost, the research published in the Annals of Oncology reported.

NHS officials last night insisted this is speculative –and pointed to guidance issued on March 30 which said essential cancer treatment must continue.

An NHS spokesman said: ‘These theoretical ‘what if’ scenarios don’t correspond to what is actually now happening, because cancer services are continuing and expanding. 

‘The NHS has set out guidance so that hospitals can further increase the number of cancer tests and treatments they carry out, so our message is, “Help us help you, and seek help as you always would”.’

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