Charities have called for an urgent plan from the Scottish Government to safely restart cancer services, and Scots Tory health spokesman, Miles Briggs, said a strategy is needed to deal with the backlog in treatment and operations.
The coronavirus pandemic stopped breast, cervical, bowel and other cancer screening programmes, and urgent referrals for diagnosis have dropped sharply while elective surgery was suspended for many patients in order to free up beds.
However specialists have voiced concerned about the long-term impact on survival, and Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith, has raised his worry that people had stopped going to see their GP about other health concerns to avoid “putting pressure” on the NHS, pointing to a 72 per cent reduction in urgent suspected cancer referrals by doctors.
Around 32,000 patients are diagnosed with cancer every year in Scotland, with 12,000 sent for surgery as their first line treatment. But 85 per cent of cancer specialists who were recently surveyed by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh said they were carrying out fewer cancer operations.
Statistics also show fewer people are attending at A&E departments across Scotland – the latest show that during the week of May 3, only 16,107 people were seen at A&E, compared to 27,845 for the same week in 2019, a drop of more than 40 per cent.
Miles Briggs, said the government needed to publish an NHS Scotland Recovery Plan to restart services disrupted by Covid-19, particularly cancer services.
Mr Briggs said: “It is vital that the Scottish Government brings forward an NHS Recovery Plan - a plan to restart our health service, particularly cancer services and operations, in Scotland.
“Over the last two months, in so many ways, people have selflessly put their own needs on hold. The A&E figures show that people have been staying away from the NHS meaning many people may be suffering in silence. But further delays will mean more patients could have poorer outcomes.
“It is now over two weeks since NHS England restarted cancer treatments, we could too.
“Thanks to the incredible work from everyone who works in our NHS, our health service has not been overwhelmed during this crisis. The Scottish Government must publish a plan to deal with the current backlog of operations and treatments and give everyone access to the healthcare they need before it’s too late.”Janice Preston, Macmillan’s head of services in Scotland, says people need to know when operations and screening will restart.
“The anxiety that people have over cancer is real,” she said. “People on treatment are frightened of getting coronavirus, or of their cancer getting worse if their treatment is altered or delayed. So we need to do as much as possible to address those fears and make sure people know what to expect.”
Marion O’Neill, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, has said the “coronavirus has left cancer diagnosis and treatment in a precarious position.
“It’s important that everyone working to manage and deliver cancer services works in partnership to minimise the impact of Covid-19 to ensure lives are not needlessly lost to cancer. Essential and urgent cancer diagnosis, treatment and care must continue.”
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