Two newly built Nightingale hospitals are being converted into cancer testing centers to clear a huge backlog of potential cancer patients, the director of NHS England said today.
Sir Simon Stevens today revealed that the 200-bed Exeter Nightingale site will screen multiple patients per day starting Monday to help the growing number of people wait for tests to find out if they have the disease.
The hospital, originally built for Covid patients when intensive care units were overwhelmed, is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
It follows the 500-bed Nightingale in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which began offering CT scans for suspected cancer patients on June 4.
It comes amid fears of a time bomb against cancer, with leading charities estimating that 2.5 million cancer patients have missed vital tests and treatments this year due to the coronavirus crisis.
Charities have also warned that there could be another 18,000 cancer deaths by 2020 due to the number of patients diagnosed late.
Sir Simon told MPs that a number of private sector hospitals could be converted to coronavirus-free cancer clinics in the coming months to clear the gap.
Sir Simon told MPs that the Exeter Nightingale site will be converted into a coronavirus-free cancer clinic from Monday
Pictured: The NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and Humber in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which began conducting CT scans on June 4
Sir Simon Stevens, director of NHS England, said there would be a “radical” change in the way cancer screening is conducted in the coming months to help the growing number of people wait for tests to find out if they have the deadly disease, to cope.
Sir Simon told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today, “It is worth remembering that four-fifths of patients on a waiting list typically wait for a test or an outpatient appointment, rather than waiting for hospitalization for surgery.
“And given the pressure on hospitals and diagnostic teams in the period from March, April, May, the flow of patients through those diagnostic services has decreased significantly.
“We have to do something different. We need to expand the diagnostic capacity. We also have to do it in new ways. ‘
He suggested that the Nightingale in Exeter and other special diagnostic and endoscopy suites will be able to see many more patients than standard cancer clinics, and the staff will use new types of tests to speed up the processes.
Sir Simon added, “The first of these is the Exeter Nightingale, which we’re going to partially reuse for non-Covid CT scans starting next Monday and lasting eight to eight and seven days a week.
NHS statistics show that 79,573 urgent referrals to cancer were made by GPs in England in April 2020 – 60 percent lower than 199,217 in April 2019
The number of people waiting for diagnostic scans and tests – such as MRI scans – has fallen as fewer people received non-coronavirus medical care during the UK crisis
Nearly 2.5 MILLION patients are trapped in coronavirus cancer
Nearly 2.5 million patients have missed vital cancer tests and treatment because of the pandemic.
The NHS faces the shocking backlog of things as it tries to return to normal – as well as dealing with new victims of the disease.
Cancer Research UK says that 2.1 million patients are waiting for critical screening for breast, cervical and colon cancer.
Another 290,000 have missed urgent referrals to confirm or rule out tumors.
And at least 21,600 patients have had surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy postponed in the past nine weeks.
Some of these procedures are said to have saved or lengthened lives, giving precious extra time with loved ones.
It is also thought that patients with cancer warning signs have avoided seeking help because they are concerned about contracting coronavirus in an operation or hospital.
The figures awaiting cancer treatment are extremely worrying, said Sarah Woolnough, policy director at Cancer Research UK.
She added, “We are going to clear this huge backlog. It is a huge backlog of services and treatments to be provided. It’s absolutely huge, it’s thousands upon thousands upon thousands. ‘
“So yes, this is an opportunity and a necessity, frankly, to do something completely different in diagnostics.”
NHS statistics suggest that thousands of cancers could have been missed due to a massive drop in referrals during the coronavirus crisis.
In April 2020, GPs in England submitted only 79,573 urgent referrals to cancer – 60 percent less than 199,217 in April 2019.
MacMillan, a cancer charity, says about 210,000 people should have been referred by April this year, suggesting that about 130,000 people were missed.
About 7 percent of those usually need cancer treatment, meaning about 9,000 people may be undiagnosed.
Experts have told MailOnline “it is not that there are fewer people with cancer, it is that they are not diagnosed because of a bottleneck in the NHS.”
The health service faces a shocking backlog in business as it tries to return to normal after shutting down most of its services to deal with the pandemic.
Figures also show the number of people waiting more than a year for NHS treatment tripled in April, adding to Covid’s harmful effect on the health of the country.
Sir Simon told MPs today that the waiting list for elective hospital admissions fell by more than half a million during closure.
But he said the waiting list will narrow and increase significantly in the second half of the year due to patients’ reluctance to go to hospital during the pandemic.
He said: “The number of free admissions in March and April was about 725,000 lower than we expected given pre-Covid growth rates.
“The decline was greatest in April then [there were] about 530,000 fewer electives, that number has been recovering considerably since then. ‘
He added, “As we had intended, we saw a much higher continuation of cancer care, including surgery, in the March-April period, so that while there was a decrease in referrals, we did about 96% of the usual cancer treatment saw during that period. ‘
Paradoxically, the waiting list will go down before it potentially goes up significantly. The reason for this is that fewer people come forward and are referred to a waiting list.
“We have seen the total waiting list drop by more than half a million people between February and April, but we expect the referrals to return in the second half of the year.”
Sir Simon also told the committee that there was a “big unknown” about how much additional pressure has been placed on the NHS for mental health care as a result of the pandemic.
He said the additional capital funding announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, of which £ 1.5 billion will go to hospitals, will help NHS providers gradually phase out outdated, disturbing “dorms.”
He told the Health and Social Care Committee, “There is a great deal of unknownness about how much additional mental health problems will come in the last four months.”
He added, “I think in a nutshell we believe there will be a greater demand for mental health, but its exact size and shape has yet to be determined and seen.”
He continued, “One of the things we also know is that too many of the NHS’s mental health buildings and facilities are outdated and in need of a significant upgrade.
“And that’s why one of the things I’ve personally pushed, and very happy with the Prime Minister’s announcement today [Tuesday] indicates effect, is capital investment to complete the so-called mental dormitory departments. ‘
Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “The tremendous pressure that COVID-19 has placed on cancer services is worrying.
“In these uncertain times, the NHS has had to make very difficult decisions to reduce the risk to patients and staff from contact with the virus. As a result, many patients experienced changes or delays in treatment, and cancer screening was effectively interrupted earlier this year.
“While the pandemic is now over and cancer care is resuming as ‘COVID-protected’ spaces are being set up, there is still a long way to go.
“The past three months have seen a very significant backlog of people waiting for cancer screening and patients needing further testing and treatment, and this will require a significant effort to clear up.”
She added: “This will be very difficult because we will not have all the necessary services back in full swing for some time.
“The government needs to work closely with the NHS to ensure it has the staff and equipment it needs to get cancer services back on track as it addresses the growing backlog.
“Prompt diagnosis and treatment remain crucial to give people with cancer the greatest chance of survival and prevent the pandemic from costing even more lives.”