Cancer charity demands 3000 more virus tests to make patients safe

UP to 3000 COVID-19 tests are needed a day in Scotland to get cancer services back on track as new analysis suggests a fall of 16,000 urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer since lockdown began.

Cancer Research UK head of external affairs, Marion O’Neil.
Cancer Research UK head of external affairs, Marion O’Neil.

Cancer Research UK has warned the Scottish Government, that for cancer services to become fully operational again extra tests are required to ensure NHS staff and facilities are free of the virus as it poses an increased risk to cancer patients.

The charity said that protecting diagnosis and treatment areas from coronavirus must be an urgent priority – which would mean scaling up the testing programme by between 1700 and 3000 tests a day.

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As part of its reponse to protecting the NHS from Covid-19, the Scottish Government cancelled cancer screening programmes, tens of thousands of people have had their care disrupted due to the virus outbreak, and there have been fears that many people with potential ilnesses have refrained from going to the GP during the pandemic.

It has also been criticised for failing to meet its own coronavirus testing target by more than 200,000 in the last month. The Scottish Government capacity for daily Covid-19 tests has risen from 10,000 on April 30 to 15,500 on May 26, which could have seen 359,500 Scots tested over the four weeks. However just 212,088 tests haven’t been conducted.

Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs, Marion O’Neill said that testing, together with enhanced infection control procedures and an adequate supply of PPE, would help protect patients and staff from COVID-19.

The charity claims that in order for staff to be tested weekly for the virus and patients to be tested when needed, an estimated 1700 to 3000 tests would need to be carried out each day. It also says urgent referrals have fallen by as much as 75 per cent in parts of the UK.

It has now launched a campaign, #SafeSpaces4CancerServices, highlighting the importance of testing to ensure all cancer services operate safely and urging people to contact their MSPs to raise the issue.

Ms O’Neill said: “It’s deeply concerning that patients are not receiving the cancer diagnostic tests and treatment they need. This is partly due to people who have worrying symptoms not visiting their doctor because they’re frightened they’ll become vulnerable to the virus when they go for tests in hospital.

“Cancer testing and some treatment has also significantly stalled due to the pandemic, putting lives at risk. To address this, we need to see COVID-19 testing efforts ramp up for staff and cancer patients so everyone has confidence that diagnosis and treatment areas are safe.

“In some cases, this would lead to lives being saved. Early diagnosis can significantly improve someone’s chances of survival. It’s crucial patients don’t wait for the pandemic to be over before they receive the treatment they need.

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“This is why it’s essential we see all cancer services fully operational in Scotland. This means taking action to quickly ramp up the number of virus tests offered.”

Macmillan Cancer Support has also warned that cancer cannot become the “forgotten C” during the coronavirus outbreak.

Scottish Labour said reactivating the NHS must be given higher priority to reduce the spike in non-Covid deaths. The paryt’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon said that the cancer screening programme should be restarted and a comprehensive plan for elective procedures should be accelerated.

Data obtained by Scottish Labour has revealed that more than 1200 Scots have died from illnesses such as cancer, dementia, stroke and heart disease, many because their treatment was delayed, or they did not want to trouble the health service during the crisis.

Ms Lennon said: “Getting NHS services up and running safely again must be a national priority, to save lives and prevent health problems building up.

“One priority for us is restarting the cancer screening programme and accelerating a detailed plan for elective procedures.”

Yesterday the Scottish Government announced that some suspended services would be resumed under its ‘Re-mobilise, Recover, Re-design, The Framework for NHS Scotland’ framework – including cancer services, especially referrals and postponed treatments – as well as treatments for non-cancer urgent inpatients and outpatients.

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Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The coronavirus pandemic has seen an unprecedented response from our NHS and care staff. Our fantastic staff have delivered a massive reorganisation of services in just a matter of weeks. This has ensured that our NHS has not been overwhelmed.

“We are taking an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach to resuming services to ensure the virus continues to be suppressed. While NHS Scotland will remain on an emergency footing, this framework sets out our approach for the next phases as we continue to respond to this pandemic.

“Our approach is not only driven by clinical priorities but also what matters to people’s quality of life like pain clinics, dental treatment and preventative work like cancer screening.”

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