The number of people seen for suspected cancer at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust following an urgent GP referral was far below pre-coronavirus levels in May, new figures reveal.
Macmillan Cancer Support says many people are still avoiding critical care due to Covid-19 and is calling for an urgent recovery plan to deal with the backlog once thousands of “invisible patients” come forward.
NHS England data shows just 1,063 people were seen by a specialist at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer in May – 46 per cent fewer than a year previously, when 1,969 appointments were recorded.
Across England, doctors saw 106,500 patients following urgent cancer referrals in May – the fewest for the month since 2011 and a drop of 47 per cent compared to a year ago.
It was an improvement on April, however, when just 79,600 patients were seen.
Macmillan’s Sara Bainbridge said: “We know that many will have been afraid to come forward with symptoms for fear of being a burden on the NHS or catching coronavirus.
“As thousands of these ‘invisible patients’ are diagnosed with cancer and begin their treatment, our cancer services face being under more pressure than ever before.”
Ms Bainbridge said Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent mini-budget, in which he announced fresh measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis, was a missed opportunity to ensure cancer “does not become the forgotten ‘C’ in this pandemic”.
She added: “It is absolutely critical that the Government commit to addressing the backlog in cancer treatment, including the staffing and resources needed, to deliver the care that many are anxiously waiting for.”
At Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, the number of people starting treatment following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer fell by 39 per cent in May compared to last year.
This mirrored the national picture – the figure dropped 37 per cent to 16,700.
An NHS spokeswoman said: “Throughout the Covid pandemic, hospitals have successfully and quickly cared for patients urgently referred by their GP, with over 94 per cent of such urgent cancer referrals being investigated within 14 days, and over 65,000 people starting treatment for cancer throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“Urgent referrals are now increasing again as people come forward for a cancer check, and anyone who is concerned about a possible symptom should contact their GP and come forward for a check-up.”