Bringing the New Normal Closer

We all yearn to enjoy normal life and I know that every cancer patient wants nothing more than successful treatment and a return to the way of life they cherish.

Common sense tells us that the ‘re-opening’ of the UK has to be undertaken in careful stages in order to prevent any resurgence of coronavirus. The government, rightly, doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks and we are all sailing in uncharted waters.

Access to NHS services was difficult enough before Covid-19, with more than four million people awaiting some form of treatment.  Cancer is no different, it will come as no surprise to anyone that the number of patients awaiting treatment for cancer through the NHS has risen sharply since the start of the pandemic.  The initial shock to the public healthcare system inevitably meant that number would balloon. Waiting times for cancer have been the worst since records began, with over 10,000 patients having to wait for more than 62 days after an urgent referral in the three months to March 2020.

Even in normal times, the NHS works to near capacity. This is particularly the case with cancer care, and specialist treatment services such as proton beam therapy and immunotherapy are even more in demand.

The pandemic led to a 70% drop in cancer referrals in April alone and it is right there has been a big push to let anyone who fears they have cancer to make an appointment with their GP. The public’s fear during the pandemic is entirely understandable but now there should be no reason for people not to make that first all-important call.

Our Rutherford Cancer Centres have been operating throughout the pandemic and we have been happy to help NHS patients referred to us for treatment. Patients supported by private medical insurance and those who self-pay have continued their treatment as normal, albeit with extra patient-safety measures in place.

The UK is only at the very beginning of rebuilding its cancer services and it is encouraging for patients that there seems to be a will for greater collaboration between the NHS and the independent sector to help return services to a satisfactory level. We should not stop there. The UK’s cancer survival record has not compared well with other similar countries and this has been due to many reasons, one notable one being early diagnosis and treatment. The UK can improve.

All of us involved in cancer care will spare no effort in tackling this disease and one of the lessons we can learn as a country from the last two months, is that when we all pull together results can be achieved beyond our expectations. If we take that spirit forward, normal life may come a little closer.

By Mike Moran, chief executive officer, Rutherford Health.