Cancer survival rates have plummetted in Britain as a result of measures taken by individuals, healthcare commissioners and the Government to deal with COVID-19, a report says.
Around a quarter of a million patients have not been referred to hospital for urgent checks, either because of their own reticence to attend hospital, their GP was reluctant to do so or there has simply been a lack of capacity as hospitals set aside their facilities to treat any potential surge in COVID-19 cases.
It means that people now have more chance of dying from cancer than they were 15 years ago, the report, from think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research and Carnall Farrar, a healthcare management consultancy, suggests.
The Sunday Times warns that thousands of lives may be lost as a result of NHS resources being diverted towards beating the coronavirus pandemic.
GPs made 339,242 urgent cancer referrals in England between April and June – but that is a 43% drop from 594,060 in the same period last year, the report states.
Researchers said that five-year survival rates could drop from 16.2% to 15.4% for lung cancer.
Survival rates would also plummet from 85% to 83.5% for breast cancer, and from 58.4% to 56.1% for colorectal cancer.
The report says that patients being diagnosed too late is to blame, while lifesaving treatment is also being seriously delayed.
Lockdown meant that screening for cancer stopped, leaving some 210,000 patents unchecked.
The report also states that GPs have not been organising as many urgent referrals for diagnostic tests, which are down by more than 40%.
It is thought that many individuals, themselves, have been reluctant to attend either GP or hospital appointments over fears of COVID-19 infection.
Carnall Farrar said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on healthcare systems around the world, in large part due to the need for capacity to treat [coronavirus] cases, which has also had significant effects on non-COVID activity.
“All segments have experienced a reduction in activity, including in emergency admissions, GP contact, screening, elective procedures and access to long-term care and rehabilitation services.
“Cancer is also hard hit and could rival COVID deaths.”
A spokesman for Macmillan, the cancer charity, said: “People aren’t getting the timely support they need, and vital appointments are being postponed, cancelled or changed.
“We know the emotional impact of the outbreak is taking its toll on people who are already struggling.
“Even in a time of crisis, decisions must be made for people with cancer.
“If we don’t take action now, we’re building up serious problems for the future.”
Macmillan is camapigning to stop cancer becoming the forgotten ‘C’.”
Waiting lists for other conditions, including cardiac care, have also soared during the pandemic.
The Government is believed to be working with both NHS and independent and private sector hospital bosses in order to come up with a plan that will address concerns around COVID-19 while getting “normal” healthcare services back up and running.