UK Lockdown Will Result in 10,000 Unnecessary Cancer Deaths: Study

HARLOW, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets staff and sees an MRI CT Scanner during a visit to the Princess Alexandra hospital for an announcement on new patient scanning equipment on September 27, 2019 in Harlow, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister is pledging an overhaul to cancer …
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A lack of face-to-face doctor visits in Britain since the beginning of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic is likely to result in 10,000 unnecessary deaths from cancer, a report from the University College London (UCL) has found.

Since the first lockdown in March of last year, an estimated 40,000 people were referred to emergency care for cancer late, which the report said will “conservatively” see 10,000 Britons die “significantly earlier” than under normal circumstances, with the possibility of deaths being “several times higher” in a worst-case scenario.

The UCL study found that over sixty per cent of the 2,096 polled were concerned about bothering their GP about “minor health problems” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Further exacerbating the problem, in-person meetings with GPs fell from 80 per cent of consultations prior to the lockdown to 57 per cent in July, The Telegraph reported.

Speaking to the paper, co-author of the report professor David Taylor said: “The immediate effect of the pandemic was to delay early diagnosis. Even before the pandemic, Britain’s performance was not up there with the best of the world.

“There is some evidence to suggest every month treatment is delayed can increase the risk of early death by seven per cent. Some of it is about patients not presenting, worrying about being a burden on their GP, some of it is about access problems.”

Prof Taylor added that while remote appointments either over the phone or online were helpful in taking care of minor issues such as the filling of prescriptions, he said that in-office examinations are still critical in the detection of diseases such as cancer.

Cancer clinician and co-author Professor Mark Emberton said: “I strongly support the efforts being made to re-awaken public awareness of the value of early cancer diagnosis and to encourage people to report unusual symptoms to their doctors, even if they seem minor.

But there is only so much this can achieve without more investment in better diagnostic services and optimal access to effective new treatments for all stages of cancer.”

Last October, a report from the healthcare analysis firm Dr Foster revealed that the government’s message of “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” scared away patients from seeking medical attention, resulting in a fall of up to 90 per cent in non-coronavirus admissions during the height of the first wave of the pandemic

The report found that prostate cancer admissions fell by some 64 per cent, bowel cancer by 39 per cent, and cervical and breast cancer admissions fell by almost one-third.

The director of strategy and analytics for Dr Foster, Tom Binstead warned at the time that “the long-term effects of the pandemic are likely to be far-reaching, with a future spike in demand possible due to missed diagnoses and postponed procedures.”

“Cancers may now require a greater level of treatment, or even be untreatable, if they have been left undetected or untreated as a result of the crisis,” he added.

Responding to the latest findings, an NHS spokesman said: “While some people were reluctant to come forward for care during the pandemic, the NHS continued to prioritise cancer care and actually services are back at pre-pandemic levels, with the latest monthly figures showing more than 200,000 people referred for checks and more than 27,000 starting treatment.

“GP appointments are also back up to pre-pandemic levels, and every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments and continuing to offer all of these methods of consultation is part of making primary care as accessible as possible.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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