Cancer care - a new crisis looming?

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Cancer care - a new crisis looming?

A study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School and University College London, has highlighted that only 40 per cent of patients attending their GP received an urgent referral within 14 days of presentation with potential “Red Flag” signs for cancer.  The conclusion of this study highlighted that:

Guideline recommendations for action are not followed for the majority of patients presenting with common possible cancer features.  A significant number of these patients developed cancer within one year of their consultation, indicating scope for improvement in the diagnostic process”

The study looked at patients who visited their GPs in 2014 and 2015.  The publication of the study in the British Medical Journal has raised concerns that these figures may well be compounded by the impact on the NHS from the Covid pandemic.  It is feared that the lack of face-to-face consultations at a GP Surgery with telephone triage and Zoom consultations taking prevalence during the pandemic, will do nothing to improve these figures and to ensure prompt warning signs are acted upon. 

MacMillan in their report from October 2020 entitled, “The Forgotten C – The Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer Care” highlighted that at that time (2020) there were 50,000 “missing diagnoses”; suggesting that nearly 50,000 fewer people actually had been diagnosed with cancer - not due to any reduction in the disease, but tragically, due to symptoms not being identified and acted upon. 

With the NHS stating that one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime these statistics and the report make for alarming reading and perhaps not unjustified apprehension at what lies ahead. 

If cancer care (diagnosis and prompt treatment) is going to be improved, what is abundantly clear is that further investment is going to have to be made to improve patient safety and give individuals the best chance of recovery from what is all too often a devastating disease.  The pressure on GP surgeries has to be recognised and those in the NHS have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and beyond.  However, it seems clear that more needs to be done by giving healthcare professions the tools, education and resources they need in order to deliver on the best possible cancer care.

During my career, I have seen both personally and professionally the devastating effects of cancer and the importance of recognising symptoms early on to give patients the best chance of survival.  It is vital that the NHS is provided with the means to achieve its aims.

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