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NHS hit by Covid disruption as cancer referrals plunge

The Covid pandemic is casting a wide shadow over the nation’s health, according to new data revealing a dramatic drop in urgent referrals for suspected cancers in England, and a plummeting quality of life among patients awaiting hip and knee surgery in the UK.

The crisis has caused huge disruption to healthcare services: in November NHS England revealed that the number of people waiting more than a year for surgery had reached its highest level since 2008, while patients have reported that their procedures, from cancer surgery to hip replacements, have been repeatedly cancelled.

It has also been linked to a fall in MRI and CT scans, while among other consequences breast screening programmes were paused last year. Experts have warned the pandemic may also have led to people avoiding GPs and hospitals, meaning they may have missed out on crucial care.

Now an analysis of NHS England data by Cancer Research UK has found that the number of people urgently referred for suspected lung cancer fell by 34% between March 2020 and January 2021 compared with the same time period in 2019/2020 – adjusted for working days. That, they say, equates to about 20,300 fewer people being urgently referred.

Declines were also found for other suspected cancers including urological cancer and gynaecological cancer, with about 51,000 fewer patients urgently referred for the former, a 25% drop, and 19,800 fewer patients urgently referred for the latter, a 10% drop, compared with the year before.

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Source: The Guardian, 24 March 2021


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