Nearly 27 million GP appointments have been ‘lost’ during the coronavirus pandemic, fueling fears of a time bomb in cancer deaths.
NHS Digital estimates that there were 26.7 million fewer GP visits in England between March and August of this year than in the same period in 2019, from 146.2 million to 119.5 million.
Cancer Research UK has said that more than 350,000 people who would normally have been referred urgently to a specialist for vital tests to check if they have the disease have not been.
The charity estimates that the delays could cause an additional 35,000 preventable deaths from cancer.
Inspectors also fear that “lost” appointments with doctors could lead to significant deterioration in patients’ health and worsening of other conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
The statistics were revealed today in a major report from the Quality of Care Commission, which warned of a “ huge pent-up demand for care ” since the March lockdown.
People have struggled to see a GP because of Covid-19 precautions which have moved much of online appointments. Social distancing and strict cleaning rules mean family physicians can only see a fraction of the normal volume of patients in their practice.
Others were afraid to see their GP for fear of being a burden on the health service or of catching Covid-19.
People have struggled to see a GP because of Covid-19 precautions which have moved much of online appointments (file)
NHS statistics show that even in August, when the country enjoyed a period of no lockdown and low transmission, GPs had 2.7 million fewer appointments than the same month in 2019.
These figures include phone and video consultations, which accounted for almost half of the appointments in August.
The watchdog said – in addition to Covid-19 restrictions making it more difficult to get an appointment – many Britons were still worried about using healthcare in case they caught the virus.
Experts previously said that the government’s successful slogan ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ was so powerful it started to become a detriment because people were always on the minds of try to avoid overloading the health service.
Lung cancer referrals have dropped by 50% ‘because patients believe their cough is Covid-19 and self-isolate instead of seeing a specialist’
Thousands of lung cancer patients may not have been diagnosed because the symptoms of the disease are so similar to those of the coronavirus, experts have warned.
Urgent referrals for lung cancer – the UK’s deadliest form of the disease – are down 50% this year, according to Cancer Research UK.
Common symptoms of the disease include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and a lack of energy, which are also signs of coronavirus.
Experts fear that patients with lung cancer may wait too late for treatment because they believe they may have Covid-19 and do not want to spread it.
People suspected of having coronavirus should self-isolate, avoid contact with others and order a test. But a shortage of samples has forced many people to be denied a test and stay home for 14 days just to be safe.
This is a critical time that could be devoted to cancer screening, top oncologists and general practitioners said today. Catching lung cancer early is essential in increasing a person’s chances of survival.
Only one in three people diagnosed with the disease lives more than five years. But the survival rate is 60% among those who are diagnosed early.
Dr Rosie Benneyworth, Chief Primary Care Inspector at QCC, said: ‘We know there has been a reduction in referrals for cancer and this will likely have a longer term impact on people receiving a appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
“We know that sometimes people haven’t been tracked for long-term health, which is likely to have a long-term impact as well. It is really important that all the needs of people are met, and not just people with Covid-19.
CQC Managing Director Ian Trenholm added: “ As the country has been locked down, the number of GP appointments has dropped dramatically. And there has been a very, very clear move towards non-face-to-face dating, whether it’s over the phone or video and online.
“ If you look at it throughout the year, the number of lost GP appointments translates into millions of people potentially not seeing their GP, not being diagnosed early enough, not getting these references for diagnoses such as cancer and other conditions. ”
The CQC praised the way general practitioners have embraced innovation and technology to move online consultations, but warned that such approaches were inappropriate for many patients.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, Managing Director of the Health Foundation, said: ‘There is now a huge and growing backlog of people in need of NHS care, which has built up due to the pandemic. ”
But Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, pointed out that 400,000 patients were seen face to face every day.
The professor added: “ GPs and their teams have worked incredibly hard since the start of the pandemic, changing the way they deliver services in order to keep patients as safe as possible, to stop the spread of the virus and to allow staff to continue working, providing services. patient care. ‘
This follows a report released Monday by Cancer Research UK, which found that up to 3 million people have missed cancer screening for all forms of the disease since the end of March.
And more than 350,000 people who would normally be referred urgently to hospital with suspected cancer symptoms have not been.
The charity fears up to 35,000 more deaths could be caused because hospitals canceled virtually all procedures, including checks and operations, to deal with the coronavirus crisis when it struck for the first time in spring.
Estimates suggest that during the lockdown, 13,000 fewer cancer patients had surgery, 6,000 fewer had chemotherapy and 3,000 fewer had radiation therapy.
In some cases, people have died due to delays in surgery or care, while others have ended up with a much worse prognosis.
While the numbers are improving steadily, they are still slightly lower than before the lockdown.
Data for England show urgent referrals for suspected prostate, bladder and kidney cancers are among the slowest to recover.
Overall, since March, around 46,000 fewer patients have been urgently referred for these cancers, about 40% less than we normally expected during this time.
Urgent referrals for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers like bowel cancer are back to around pre-Covid levels.
But doctors still saw 68,000 fewer patients this year than they expected (about 30 percent).
Benchmarks for breast cancer are also back to pre-pandemic levels, but 46,000 fewer patients were seen this year than the five-year average of 230,000.