Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

The devastating human toll of Britain’s cancer backlog, built up in the pandemic, is today laid bare by the Sunday People.

An estimated 19,500 sufferers have been undiagnosed since the Covid crisis began. And delays in diagnosis may mean 60,000 excess deaths.

Many patients’ lifesaving procedures were postponed. In the year to February 2021, there were 187,000 fewer chemo treatments.

Some patients now have terminal diagnoses. Other people are grieving the loss of a loved one who may have been saved with earlier medical intervention. And the problem is far from over.

Hospital waiting lists in England are at a record high, and lengthening, with 5.6 million people needing treatment.

Even if hospitals increase treatments by 5%, it may still take until 2033 to clear the backlog, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Oncologist Prof Karol Sikora, founding dean of the University of Buckingham’s medical school, said: “Every day a thousand people in Britain will be told they have cancer for the first time.

Have you or a loved one been waiting for cancer treatment during lockdown? Let us know in the comments

Kelly Smith’s treatment was paused for 12 weeks at the start of the lockdown
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“But at the time of the peak incidence of Covid this dropped precipitously. Where did the missing patients go? We know they exist, and their diagnosis was significantly delayed. Many will die consequently because of the delay.

“The excess deaths can only be counted accurately in at least one year’s time. Estimates vary from 30,000 to 60,000.”

He said cancer patients were greatly disadvantaged by policies telling people to stay at home because of the threat of Covid-19.

Prof Sikora said delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment occurred because patients held off seeking medical help, and reductions in normal primary care services, made access difficult.

He also said there was a breakdown of hospital diagnostic pathways and delays in starting the first cancer treatment – usually surgery.

“Patient delay – essentially the bottling up of symptoms – were prominent at times of greatest lockdown. There were clear difficulties in accessing primary care services. Even before Covid, GP appointments took some time to get and were essentially rationed.

“The lack of capacity within the system meant that once Covid caused additional workload, GP services in many areas simply crumbled.”

He said there were delays in accessing X-rays, CT scans, MR scans, ultrasound images, endoscopies, image guided biopsies as well as surgery.

“These delays inevitably caused upward stage migration in many patients, so reducing overall five-year survival significantly in many patients.

“As an example, a stage-one breast cancer patient has a 98% chance of cure whereas a stagethree patient has only 25%.”

Prof Pat Price, a cancer doctor and chairman of charity Action Radiotherapy, said the Government has been “reckless” and urgently needed to ringfence investment for cancer services with a national recovery plan.

She added: “Cancer is an emergency and it hasn’t been treated as an emergency.”

Cancer Research’s Kruti Shrotri said: “Tens of thousands of people remain undiagnosed, or waiting for tests and treatment. But cancer services have been struggling for years, even before the pandemic hit. We are concerned that cancer survival could go backwards.”

No hope’ for mum told it was reflux

Mum-of-two Jackie Johnson, 51, pictured above , has stage-four cancer of the oesophagus and has been told by medics there is no hope.

Three times in lockdown, doctors told her she had acid reflux.

She only realised the severity of her illness by reading notes left on her bed by a nurse.

This was after months of problems eating and swallowing. She was unable to see her GP, despite spending hours on hold to her local surgery.

Jackie Johnson now has stage four cancer
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Jackie and her partner Colin considered selling their home in Fife to pay for a private CT scan but she finally has an NHS one booked in for next week.

The charity fundraiser, who has been off sick for more than a year, initially paid for a consultation with an expert in her cancer at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London after the NHS said she could only have palliative care.

She said: “I haven’t had any cancer treatment since January and I feel like all the doctors are just expecting me to die.

“It’s going to take years to catch-up on the backlog – but people with cancer don’t have years.”

Daughter died week after right diagnosis

A grieving mum says the Covid backlog delayed her daughter’s accurate diagnosis of the cancer which took her life.

Latifa King, 27, right, had to wait two months with severe leg pain before seeing a doctor.

She was misdiagnosed in December with sciatica after medics had also suggested it could have been a water infection or a twisted bowel.. She was given only painkillers.

Latifa King was misdiagnosed and had to wait weeks to see a doctor
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Latifa, of Leicester, was finally diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma, an aggressive cancer affecting soft body tissue, but it was too late for treatment.

She died a week later, in February.

Her mum Lizzie Molyneaux, 54, said Latifa had a lump and could barely walk but was not taken seriously.

“We didn’t have any time to properly plan her funeral or say proper goodbyes,” she added.

“To sit and watch my daughter deteriorate like that is vile, absolutely vile. She had her whole future, her whole life, in front of her. And now it’s gone.”

Vital scan was too late

Sherwin Hall had agonising leg pain but had to “beg” for an MRI scan during Covid.

When he got it, it was too late.

The dad of two, 28, from Leeds, was initially given antibiotics but the pain persisted and, unable to get a GP appointment, he went to A&E 13 times in four weeks.

The scan in May last year revealed a two-metre tumour in his pelvis and 30 small tumours on his lungs.

Sherwin Hall went to A&E 13 times in four weeks with his leg pain
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He died a week after marrying La’Troya, 32, last November.

Their baby Sancho was just eight months.

La’Troya said: “It’s likely Sherwin would still be here if his cancer was found sooner. But we were repeatedly told services had been slowed down and delayed due to Covid.”

Covid delays ‘took young Kelly’s life

The family of a young mum who died of bowel cancer believes she would have lived but for delays to chemo caused by Covid.

Kelly Smith’s treatment was paused for 12 weeks at the start of the lockdown and she believed her cancer progressed rapidly during that period.

She died in June after three-and-a-half years of living with the disease.

Kelly, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, who was mum to seven-year-old son Finn, said at the time: “I’m angry at Covid because it’s me that had this break. It’s me that has been put in this situation.”

Kelly’s family believes she would have lived but for delays to chemo caused by Covid
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Her family has launched a petition and the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign to demand that cancer services are resumed to avoid other deaths.

Kelly’s dad Craig Russell said: “The lack of urgency to tackle the cancer backlog is mind-numbing.

“The Government and senior NHS leaders need to react to this national tragedy – it’s not OK to let cancer patients suffer and die. Every day of delay is a day too many.

“It is too late for Kelly, but there’s still time to save others. She was our inspiration and her memory keeps us fighting.”

If you fear you or a loved one has cancer, or you’ve been diagnosed, call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000

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