UK needs to prepare for a deluge of cancer cases

The UK will have to use ‘everything it has got’ to deal with a ‘deluge’ of cancer patients as the Covid-19 pandemic eases, Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer at Rutherford Health, said today.

Professor Sikora warned of a surge in cancer patients and the impact it will have on the healthcare sector as he spoke today to more than 100 health, care and local government personnel in a webinar organised by Public Policy Projects.

Professor Sikora said: “In the month of April we would have expected around 25,000 people to present with cancer symptoms in the UK. There were only 5,000 because of the pandemic.

“The cancer has not gone away and that means we have to be braced for a surge in patients later in the year who will require treatment.

“The biggest problem we face in dealing with cancer is the upward stage migration. Most stage one cancers are treatable and curable and therefore early diagnosis is essential. This was a problem in the UK even before the pandemic which is now causing great turmoil in cancer care.

“We have to get the treatment of cancer moving again and quickly. We do not want at the end of the year to be looking at cancer death figures spiralling beyond what they would be expected to be.

“The NHS and the government have issued very sensible guidance urging people to go and see their GPs. People are scared to leave their homes, but we have got to start using the NHS again.

“There is also capacity within the private sector which does not work at full capacity and it makes sense to harness that capability.”

Professor Sikora welcomed the creation of ‘COVID-free zones’ in hospitals and clinics to help treat cancer patients and also said that telemedicine would play an increasing role in the diagnosis and early-stage treatment of cancer in future.

He said: "We are at the beginning of a revolution that is here to stay. forever. There is going to be better co-ordinated cancer management in primary care. New skills in conveying empathy at a distance will need to be upgraded. Telemedicine will play a big part in that and we’ll also be looking at the use of feedback from wearable technology attached to patients."

The webinar can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/D-tRzBvXrLI