The far-reaching impact that extreme COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures are having on the nation’s health was underlined this week when the plight of breast cancer patients was revealed.
A team of university researchers found there has been a significant rise in levels of anxiety and depression due to diagnostic and treatment delays and cancellations for breast cancer patients that have been introduced by over-cautious health chiefs.
Experts fear that breast cancer patients, like those with other conditions, are not getting the care they need as NHS hospital capacity is set aside to deal with a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients that is still yet to emerge.
A team of researchers at Birkbeck, University of London, found that nearly one in three women diagnosed with primary breast cancer has had treatment, appointments or scans postponed as a result of the pandemic response.
Women polled by the academics reported poorer mental health than women who were able to continue treatment, scoring around 20% higher for depression and anxiety on questionnaires.
The figures will add weight to the views of many experts that the widespread lockdown measures are causing significantly more harm to the health of the nation than the pandemic itself.
Specialists in other types of cancer and cardiac care, in particular, have expressed frustration at their inability to be able to treat patients in urgent need of treatment as NHS hospital beds lie empty in case they are needed to treat COVID-19 cases.
Other healthcare economists argue, though, that many cancer treatments, for example, damage the immune system and could in turn lead to a rise in deaths due to COVID-19 and so it is best to delay them.
There is also evidence, though, that increased levels of anxiety and depression in cancer patients can in themselves lead to a rise in mortality rates.
Bethany Chapman, one of the lead researchers, said: “The COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in the UK has not only had debilitating effects on diagnosis and treatment for women affected by breast cancer, but has further added to the psychological distress so often experienced by these women.”
The research is based on a series of online surveys with 234 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK and is published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology – Psycho-Oncology.