More emergency cancer patients in the Herts Valleys area last summer

The NHS Herts Valleys CCG area covers Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans, Harpenden, Watford and Three Rivers

Monday, 29th March 2021, 9:41 am
Updated Monday, 29th March 2021, 9:44 am

The number of cancer patients admitted to hospitals as emergency cases in Herts Valleys rose last summer, figures show.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the rising number of cancer patients across England arriving at hospitals via A&E or other urgent routes showed the “devastating" effect of the virus on cancer care.

Public Health England data shows 145 people with newly identified tumours were admitted to hospital inpatient wards as an emergency in the NHS Herts Valleys CCG area in the three months to September.

The image has been used for illustration purposes

That was up from 121 between April and June – and a slight increase from 142 during the same period a year earlier.

Cancer services have continued throughout the pandemic and Herts Valleys is encouraging patients to contact their GP with any concerns or symptoms.

Patients are commonly admitted as emergency cases via A&E, or after an emergency referral by their GP, but can arrive through other routes.

People who have their cancer diagnosed this way are significantly less likely to survive on average as it is often more advanced.

The figures count all invasive forms of the disease except non-melanoma skin cancer, and can include admissions with a suspicion of a tumour.

Including all referral types, there were 583 first inpatient admissions for cancer in the three months to September – down from 695 during the same period in 2019.

It means around 25 per cent of admissions were listed as emergencies, compared to 20 per cent a year earlier.

A Herts Valleys CCG spokesperson said: "Cancer services have continued throughout the pandemic and we have strongly encouraged patients to contact their GP with any concerns or symptoms.

"Earlier in 2020 we saw lower referrals of patients with suspected cancer due to the impact of the pandemic. However, this March there has been an increase in cancer referrals to West Herts Hospitals Trust to above the level from March last year.

"Where patients have been referred to hospital they have been seen quickly. Between April and December 2020 over 94 per cent of patients referred on a suspected cancer pathway were seen within two weeks, meeting the national target.

"Supporting patients to get the earliest possible treatment for cancer is a priority for Herts Valleys CCG and we’re committed to making sure patients get an early diagnosis to improve outcomes.

"We’ve done a lot of work in this area and have invested in giving GPs direct access to diagnostic tests for certain types of cancer.

"We are also piloting a new scheme that allows patients to be investigated for an underlying cancer on the basis of symptoms that give their GP cause for concern even if they don’t meet the standard urgent referral criteria.

"We are also working with the Hertfordshire Learning Disability Nursing Team to support women with learning disability to attend cervical screening appointments, addressing significantly lower uptake in this population.

"Our message to patients is not to delay in going to their GP with any worrying symptoms. People should be reassured that if they need to be referred for further tests or treatment they will be seen quickly and safely."

Across England, nearly 14,500 newly admitted cancer inpatients were emergency cases between July and September, which was more than any three-month period on record.

Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan, said the figures showed “the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on cancer care”.

She said: “So far the Government has failed to show how it will deliver the staffing and resources needed to clear the backlog of people waiting for a diagnosis and treatment.

“They must urgently put this right so that people living with cancer get the care they need and do not become forgotten amid this pandemic.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Despite confronting enormous pressure, the NHS has continued to treat cancer patients as a priority, with 1.86 million urgent referrals and over 477,000 people receiving cancer treatment between March 2020 and January 2021.

“We continue to urge people to come forward to their GP if they have symptoms and as part of our additional investment in the NHS, an extra £1 billion is being used to boost diagnosis and treatment across all areas of elective care in the year ahead.”