Covid disrupted treatment for 30% of NHS cancer patients, survey shows

Research by Cancer Research UK also found only 60% thought their care was ‘very good’, down from 84%

Almost three in 10 cancer patients had their treatment disrupted when the NHS suspended much of its normal care to focus on Covid-19, a survey shows.

Overall 29% of people receiving cancer care had a test, procedure or appointment delayed, cancelled or changed during the pandemic, Cancer Research UK found.

Some patients said they felt forgotten as the NHS prioritised treating those seriously ill with Covid. One person with breast cancer said: “I felt abandoned and in the dark.”

In addition, 67% of cancer patients said they felt more frustrated and 62% more anxious as a result of the pandemic. That could reflect the widespread disruption to testing and treatment or the extra risks faced by people with compromised immune systems from Covid.

“Covid-19 hit the health system hard and cancer services suffered as a result. But even before the pandemic struck cancer targets were not being met,” said Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.

“And now for the first time in decades we’re faced with the fact that cancer survival could go backwards.”

Despite NHS staff working tirelessly to maintain care for those with cancer, Covid-19 still had “a devastating impact on cancer services and cancer patients”, she said.

The pandemic has left cancer patients much less positive about their NHS care. Before Covid-19 struck 84% said their care was “very good”, but that figure has fallen to 60%, according to the survey of 900 people with cancer, which was undertaken between December and March.

Similarly, the proportion of people who said their care was “below average” has risen from less than 2% to 10% during the pandemic, and those calling it “average” from 5% to 11%.

However, 89% of patients praised the “safe spaces” that hospitals set up to try to keep their care free of Covid risks and 75% liked the care they had received at home and in the community.

The chief executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power, said patients awaiting all types of care had experienced difficulties.

“Since the start of the pandemic we have said that care must be maintained for all patients. Cancer Research UK’s findings are unsurprising and in line with what we’ve heard from patients,” she said.

“What Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, says about cancer care holds true for the care of so many patients, not just those with cancer.”

Cally Palmer, NHS England’s national director for cancer, said: “While facing unprecedented challenges, caring for more than 400,000 seriously ill people in hospital with Covid and delivering over 70m vaccines, the NHS continued to prioritise cancer throughout the pandemic and referral and treatment numbers are back to usual levels.

“Thanks to the huge efforts of staff and the introduction of new and innovative approaches, more than 350,000 people safely started cancer treatment over the pandemic.

“The NHS remains open and ready to care for you so it’s important that people experiencing cancer symptoms come forward and get checked.”


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Early cancer diagnoses plummeted in England during Covid pandemic
Official figures spark fears that patients may miss out on treatment until it is too late

Denis Campbell

05, May, 2021 @6:45 PM

Article image
Nurse shortage ‘delaying treatment for 21% of UK cancer patients’
One in five living with cancer lack dedicated support due to ‘shocking’ shortfall of specialist care, says report

Andrew Gregory Health editor

07, Sep, 2021 @11:01 PM

Article image
Windrush scandal: Albert Thompson gets cancer treatment date
Londoner, 63, was denied NHS care and made homeless over immigration status

Amelia Gentleman

24, Apr, 2018 @5:50 PM

Article image
Home Office prevented asylum seeker's urgent cancer treatment
Woman with advanced breast cancer was deemed ineligible for free NHS care

Josh Halliday and Denis Campbell

07, Jun, 2018 @4:18 PM

Article image
London hospital halts urgent cancer surgery due to Covid cases
Concern among staff as King’s College postpones operations amid shortage of ICU beds

Denis Campbell and Haroon Siddique

04, Jan, 2021 @6:38 PM

Article image
Cancer patients face ‘perfect storm’ as Covid piles pressure on NHS
Macmillan analysis of NHS England data finds overstretched hospitals struggling to cope with backlog

Andrew Gregory Health editor

22, Oct, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Patients in limbo after cancelled cancer surgery as Covid delays NHS care
Suspension of hospital treatment has also affected those awaiting hip and knee replacements

Denis Campbell, Nicola Slawson and Caroline Bannock

31, Jan, 2021 @5:46 PM

Article image
Waiting times for NHS cancer treatment are at worst ever level
Record 20,000 patients a month are suffering delays in seeing a consultant or starting therapies

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

10, Jan, 2019 @7:21 PM

Article image
NHS cancer patients hit by treatment delays after cyber-attack
Hospitals across the country were forced to cancel routine procedures and divert emergency cases after malware attack

Sarah Marsh

14, May, 2017 @6:57 PM

Article image
NHS hit by Covid disruption as cancer referrals plunge
Hip and knee surgery patients also suffer ‘misery and despair’ as operations delayed

Nicola Davis and Denis Campbell

24, Mar, 2021 @12:01 AM