Huge numbers of cancer patients are to receive treatment at new centres designed to be kept clear of coronavirus.
The regional “virus-free” centres have been set up in 21 areas of England to carry out urgent surgery during the pandemic.
It is thought that thousands of patients will be treated as a matter of urgency.
Local health bodies have been ordered to ensure that all essential cancer treatments continue despite the continued NHS focus on coronavirus.
Some estimates suggest that cancer referrals have fallen by as much as 70%.
Many individuals are also worried about seeking help from their GP. One survey by NHS England of 1,000 people found a third were reluctant to contact their family doctor for help.
Most said they were worried about catching coronavirus or giving it to family members. Some said they did not want to be a burden on the health service.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England’s clinical director for cancer, said waiting to get help could have “serious consequences” for patients – and ultimately put a greater burden on the NHS.
He said: “Online consultations mean people do not necessarily need to go to GP surgeries for check-ups while Covid-free cancer hubs have been set up to provide surgery.”
There have also been calls for diagnostic services to be up and running more widely too to investigate whether patients do in fact have cancer and need treatment.