New figures released today by NHS England reveal that cancer referrals and treatments in London started to drop again in January, with around 7,000 fewer people with suspected cancer seeing a specialist compared to the same month last year. 18% fewer Londoners with cancer than expected started vital treatment to save, extend or improve their lives. This equates to around 600 fewer people than in the same period last year.
From March last year when coronavirus was first on the rise, numbers accessing cancer care started dropping for the first time as a result of the pandemic and it took until December to return to normal levels. Between March 2020 and January 2021 about 83,700 fewer Londoners saw a cancer specialist to begin tests for suspected cancer following an urgent GP referral and more than 5,000 fewer people diagnosed with cancer started their first treatment in London compared to the same period the previous year.
Following the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, London saw a greater drop-off in first cancer treatments and first appointments with a specialist for people with suspected cancer compared to England as a whole.
According to the most recent chemotherapy figures published by Public Health England, during the first stage alone of the Covid-19 crisis, more than 2,100 fewer people with cancer started chemotherapy in London for the first time compared to the same period in 2019. That’s an almost 40% drop.
In England, the drop in number of people starting chemotherapy for the first time during that same first stage of the pandemic was 28%.
Sara Bainbridge, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
“2020 was a devastating year for many people living with cancer and the drop in activity in January this year reminds us that, sadly, the impact of Covid-19 is still being felt. Many Londoners might have faced disruption to their tests or treatment, whilst others might not have had a troubling symptom or sign of cancer checked out.
“We’re yet to see all of the long-term impacts of the pandemic on people with cancer. With challenges still ahead, the NHS must be enabled to ensure timely and safe cancer care can continue, including access to private hospital capacity for as long as it needs and support for staff.
“We urge anyone experiencing cancer symptoms to contact their GP without delay and attend scheduled medical appointments.”
Donal Gallagher, Macmillan Strategic Partnerships Manager for London, adds:
“All healthcare professionals and staff across the capital continue to work tirelessly to offer the best possible care, support people and save lives.
“Macmillan continues to support both professionals and thousands of Londoners with cancer or with cancer symptoms that may have faced disruption to their treatment or appointments, worrying about the long-term implications for their health, their families and their future.
“Anyone in need of support should contact the seven-day-a-week Macmillan Support Line, where they can speak to our specially trained nurses and experts on 0808 808 00 00 (8am to 8pm).”