Nearly 27 million GP appointments were ‘lost’ during the coronavirus pandemic, fueling fears of a ticking time bomb of cancer deaths.
NHS Digital estimates there were 26.7 million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than in the same period in 2019 – from 146.2 million to 119.5 million.
Cancer Research UK said more than 350,000 people who would normally have been urgently referred to a specialist to undergo essential tests to verify they have not had the disease.
The charity believes the delays could lead to 35,000 preventable cancer deaths.
Inspectors also fear that ‘lost’ appointments with doctors have significantly deteriorated patients’ health and worsened other conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
The statistics were revealed today in a major report from the Care Quality Commission, which warned of “ huge pent-up care demand ” since the lockdown in March.
People have a hard time seeing a GP because of Covid-19 precautions that have moved much of the online appointments. Due to social detachment and strict cleaning rules, GPs can only see a fraction of the normal number of patients in their practices.
Others feared seeing their GP for fear of taxing health care or getting Covid-19.
NHS Digital estimates there were 26.7 million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than in the same period in 2019 – from 146.2 million to 119.5 million
People struggle to see a GP because of the Covid-19 precautions that have moved many appointments online (file)
The NHS statistics show that even in August, when the country experienced a period of no lockdowns and low transmission, GPs had 2.7 million fewer appointments than in the same month in 2019.
Those numbers include phone and video meetings, which made up nearly half the appointments in August.
The watchdog said – in addition to the Covid-19 restrictions that make it more difficult to get an appointment – many Britons still feared using health care in case they caught the virus.
Experts have previously said that the government’s successful slogan “ Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives ” was so powerful that it was starting to become a disadvantage as people were still thinking about trying not to tax healthcare.
Referrals Lung Cancer Down 50% ‘Because Patients Think Their Cough is Covid-19 and Isolate Themselves Instead of Seeing a Specialist’
Thousands of lung cancer patients may be undiagnosed because the symptoms of the disease are so similar to the coronavirus, experts warned.
Urgent referrals for lung cancer – the most deadly form of the disease in the UK – are down 50 percent this year, according to Cancer Research UK.
Common symptoms of the disease include a persistent cough, shortness of breath and lack of energy, which are also signs of coronavirus.
Experts worry that lung cancer patients are waiting too late to seek treatment because they think they have Covid-19 and don’t want to spread it.
People suspected of having the coronavirus are instructed to isolate themselves, avoid contact with others, and order a test. But a shortage of cotton swabs has resulted in many people being refused a test and told to stay home for 14 days to be on the safe side.
This is a critical time that can be spent screening for cancer, top oncologists and primary care physicians say today. Catching lung cancer early is critical to increasing a person’s chances of survival.
Only one in three people diagnosed with the disease lives more than five years. But the survival rate is 60 percent among those who receive an early diagnosis.
Dr. Rosie Benneyworth, QCC’s chief superintendent of primary care, said: “We know that referrals to cancer have declined and that is likely to impact people who receive the correct diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the longer term.
‘We know that sometimes people have not had long-term follow-up to their conditions, and that probably has long-term consequences. It is really important that all of the people’s needs are met, not just the people with Covid-19. ‘
CQC Director Ian Trenholm added: “As the country closed, the number of GP nominations dropped significantly. And there was a very, very clear movement towards non-face-to-face hookups, be it over the phone or video and online.
“ Looking at year-round, the number of GP appointments lost translates into millions of people who may not see their GP, get the conditions diagnosed early enough, don’t get referrals for diagnoses such as cancer and other conditions. ”
The CQC praised the way GPs have applied innovation and technology to move consultations online, but warned that such approaches are not appropriate for many patients.
Dr. Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said, “There is now a huge and growing backlog of people in need of NHS care that has built up as a result of the pandemic.”
But Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, stressed that 400,000 patients were seen in person every day.
The professor added: “ GPs and their teams have worked incredibly hard from the start of the pandemic to change the way they provide services to keep patients as safe as possible, stop the spread of the virus and empower staff to continue working, patient care. ‘
It comes after a Cancer Research UK report on Monday found that since the end of March, up to 3 million people have missed cancer screening for all forms of the disease.
And more than 350,000 people who would normally be referred to hospital urgently with suspected cancer symptoms were not.
The charity fears that up to 35,000 additional deaths could be caused because hospitals canceled virtually all procedures, including checkups and surgeries, to deal with the coronavirus crisis when it first hit in the spring.
Estimates suggest that during lockdown, 13,000 fewer cancer patients underwent surgery, 6,000 less chemotherapy, and 3,000 less radiotherapy.
In some cases, people died as a result of delays in surgery or care, while others were left with much worse prognoses.
While the numbers are steadily improving, they are still slightly lower than before the lockdown.
Data for England shows that urgent referrals for suspected prostate, bladder and kidney cancers are among the slowest recovery.
In total, about 46,000 patients have been less urgently referred for these cancers since March – about 40 percent less than we would normally expect during this time.
Urgent referrals for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers such as colon cancer are back to about pre-Covid levels.
But doctors have still seen 68,000 fewer patients than they expected this year (about 30 percent).
Referrals to breast cancer are now also back to pre-pandemic levels, but 46,000 fewer patients were seen this year than the five-year average of 230,000.