Call to safeguard cancer services as thousands in Yorkshire face diagnosis in midst of mounting healthcare pressures

Cancer services must be safeguarded in the midst of mounting healthcare pressures, leading charities have warned, as a stark picture is drawn over the human cost in the region which could take years to overcome.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive of cancer charity Macmillan, is among those to have called for cancer services to be safeguarded this winter.

Some 7,500 people in Yorkshire will face a cancer diagnosis in the next three months, analysis suggest, even as services reel in recovery from tackling a backlog of delays.

Warning the pandemic poses a healthcare crisis the likes of which has never been seen before, and as charities’ income for support faces steep falls, there are calls to protect crucial services through the coming winter.

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Some 50,000 people nationwide will likely miss a cancer diagnosis because of the pandemic, cancer charity Macmillan has long cautioned, warning services “cannot be shut down” this winter.

The NHS has stressed that essential treatments are still running despite “significant” Autumn pressures, adding that treatments and referrals are now “well above” usual levels.

Today, as families and young people share their experience over delays for cancer treatments and with support services moved online, they have spoken of a sense of isolation as they fight for positivity while shielding for so many months.

One specialist, working in the region’s hospitals, has warned the impact will be seen for years to come as services battle to overcome delays in coming forward.

Macmillan has seen a “huge” increase in calls about the pandemic, it reveals, as anxieties rose during the first wave.

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Warning over the impact on vital research, Yorkshire Cancer Research has revealed half of its research projects stopped recruiting in March or slowed down, impacting on some 23,000 people who might have benefited.

“The sad fact is that people in our region are more likely to have their lives cut short by cancer than almost any other place in England,” said director of research Stuart Griffiths.

“Research is always the key, to finding better treatments, to getting earlier diagnosis and better prognosis. Any slow down in that means a slowdown in tackling cancer.”

The NHS has stressed that essential treatments are still running despite “significant” Autumn pressures, adding that treatments and referrals are now “well above” usual levels.

But with the prospect of a difficult winter ahead, Macmillan is among those calling on Government to guarantee services will have ringfenced resources to keep running, preventing any redeployment of equipment, beds, or cancer nurses and clinicians.

'Crucial'

Kieran Conaty, a Macmillan Cancer Support partnership manager in the North of England said: “It is crucial that we make sure every individual on a cancer journey in these unprecedented times is not forgotten, and that Government is held to account in this respect.”

Earlier this week, Cancer Research UK announced it had to cut its research funding by £45m because of the effects of the coronavirus.

Commenting on figures that show an upturn for NHS services, chief executive Michelle Mitchell said efforts to keep services open through England's second national lockdown had proved a success.

"Challenges still remain in ramping up activity to clear the backlog that has built up since the start of the pandemic," she said.

"Early diagnosis and swift treatment of cancer give the best chance of survival, so we continue to encourage people to seek help if they have any worrying symptoms.”

Government priority

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a priority throughout, urging people to come forward with symptoms.

“We invested £132m in cancer research last year and recently announced £325m for new NHS diagnostic machines to improve outcomes for cancer patients,” they said.

“We continue to be committed to advancing research and working closely with medical charities to understand the impact of the pandemic, to ensure patients continue to benefit from pioneering medical treatment.”