Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, it was reported that every 2 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer, every 7 minutes someone will have a heart attack, and every 12 minutes someone will have a stroke. These are undeniably worrying health statistics, but now experts Professor Harry Hemingway & Dr Alvina Lai (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) warn that almost 18,000 more people with cancer in England could die after the Covid-19 pandemic led hospitals to suspend treatment and deterred patients from seeking NHS care.
Furthermore, new data from hospitals across England show that the number of people seen in hospital with a suspected heart attack has halved during the pandemic and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) have reported their concern that thousands of people may be at greater risk of suffering long term heart damage, needing intensive care, or even dying as a result.
Cardiologists believe that people have been too afraid to visit hospital during the Covid-19 crisis due to fear of being exposed to the virus, or that people are worried about putting pressure on an already overburdened NHS and so are not seeking treatment. As a result, the BHF are reminding the public that heart attacks are still a top priority for the NHS, and they urge anyone who experiences heart attack symptoms to seek medical help immediately by calling 999.
Whilst both cancer and cardiology services have started to reopen in England, hundreds of thousands of heart and circulatory patients have had non-emergency surgeries, assessments and tests postponed since the crisis began.
This could have a devastating impact on peoples’ health, and even lead to an increase in deaths. It could also lead to a tidal wave of increased NHS pressure because patients have become sicker while awaiting hospital investigations and treatment. Tragically, the BHF estimated that there have been at least 28,000 delayed inpatient heart procedures in England alone since lockdown began.
A report from the NHS Confederation, which represents health and care decision makers, has said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a growing backlog across all services and it’s feared that due to the Covid-19 emergency it could result in at least 20% more deaths over the next 12 months in people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer, according to a UCL study with DATA-CAN: The Health Data Research Hub for Cancer in the UK and Cancer Research UK estimate about 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for screening, treatment or tests with a potential 23,000 cancers having gone undiagnosed during lockdown.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “My colleagues and I have seen the devastating impact this pandemic has had on both patients and NHS staff. Delays to diagnosis and treatment could mean that some cancers will become inoperable. Patients shouldn’t need to wait for this to be over before getting the treatment they need”.
However, health leaders are telling us not to expect the same level of service for many months as the NHS faces a slow road to recovery and the NHS Confederation said that the health service in England faces an uphill battle as it continues to manage thousands of very sick and recovering Covid-19 patients, maintain social distancing and restart services to treat cancer, stroke and heart care.
Analysis shared with the NHS Confederation suggests that the NHS waiting list could reach 10 million by the end of the year, possibly higher if there is a second wave of Covid-19 and a lack of treatment or a vaccine.
Though much of our focus now is rightly on coronavirus deaths, we risk losing sight of another wave of tragic fatalities – those who did not have coronavirus but did not get the treatment they needed during this urgent crisis.
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