Extra Government funding, planned for the next four years, is still not enough to address the backlog of cancer cases attributed to the lockdown. Here are the details of the NAO report. “Millions of people have also avoided seeking or been unable to obtain referrals for healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report stated. “The NAO estimates that there were between 240,000 and 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer during the pandemic.
“In addition, the NAO estimates that up to September 2021, between 35,000 and 60,000 fewer people started treatment for cancer than would have been expected.”
Prior to the pandemic, the NHS was struggling to hit performance targets for waiting times.
Around 92 percent of elective care patients (i.e. care that is planned in advance) “should” have started their treatment “within 18 weeks” of being referred to a consultant.
This, however, was not the case, as 17 percent of elective care patients in February 2020 (before the lockdown) had been waiting longer than 18 weeks.
There was also a standard for 85 percent of patients to start treatment within 62 days after an urgent referral by a GP.
Such a target was also missed, as 22 percent of patients had to wait longer than this for their treatments to begin.
The report read: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS has had to redirect much of its resources to treat COVID-19 patients and to implement infection, prevention and control measures.
“In January 2021, an average of 24,100 general and acute care beds were being used by COVID-19 patients.
“Between January and September 2021, an average of 35 percent of unoccupied general and acute care beds had to be set aside for COVID-19 patients.”
The NHS was already operating very close to its maximum capacity before Covid, so it was inevitable that a “sharp increase” in waiting times would occur.
However, the NAO recognises that there is “inherent uncertainty about these estimates”.
One unknown factor is whether any “missing” cancer cases will return to the NHS to seek treatment.
“Addressing backlogs and reducing waiting times will be a multi-faceted challenge for the NHS,” the NAO report stated.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could also continue to affect bed and staff availability in unexpected ways and at short notice.”
If you are one of those people who put off going to the doctor’s office during the pandemic, and you are showing worrisome symptoms, do book an appointment.
The earliest that cancer is detected and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be.
While waiting times can be lengthier than Government targets, getting treatment at some stage is better than no treatment at all.
The four most common cancers in the UK are: breast, lung, prostate, and bowel cancer.
The NAO – who scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of Government and the civil service – is committed to doing another report.
In the upcoming report, the NAO will examine the plans to improve this situation and the NHS’s early progress.