This morning in the House of Commons, Julian questioned the Health Secretary Matt Hancock on assisting York Hospital NHS Trust to make sure the local fall in cancer referrals at the height of the pandemic does not produce a backlog of slowly diagnosed cases that worsen cancer outcomes.
York Hospital worked hard to continue as much cancer care as possible during lockdown, with the most urgent operations going ahead, and the majority of cancer services transferred to the Nuffield hospital, allowing haematology and oncology treatment to proceed. However, there was a fall in GP referrals, most likely due to residents not consulting their GPs because of the pandemic conditions, which could potentially store up problems for the future if diagnosis is delayed.
At Questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock responded to Julian, noting this was an important point, and saying:
We now have referrals back up to over 85% of pre-pandemic levels, but we need to get that up further, because we all know that early diagnosis saves lives.
I’m also very glad to be able to report that in July, on the latest data, over 90% of patients saw a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of a referral from the GP, and 95% of patients received treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat. So, those referrals are leading to the action that’s necessary, and it’s very important that the message goes out that the NHS is open, and anybody with a concern over cancer should come forward, and they can get the treatment in a safe way that can help to save their lives.
After leaving the Commons chamber, Julian said:
I have been concerned about the disruption and delay to routine NHS services for serious conditions like cancer from the beginning of lockdown, and checked in with York Hospital Trust in late April about their plan for scaling up to normal non-covid services as soon as was possible. I therefore thought it was important to flag up the issue of helping York NHS get back to normal referral numbers so delayed diagnoses do not worsen cancer outcomes in our city.
I am reassured to hear from the Health Secretary that diagnosis and treatment is relatively prompt for those who are referred, and we must ensure that these standards are met in York, building on the Hospital Trust’s amazing work in keeping so much cancer treatment going during the peak of the virus.
It is also essential that residents feel able to seek a GP referral if they have cancer symptoms, and I hope the Health Secretary’s waiting time figures convince affected residents it is worthwhile consulting their doctor as soon as they can.
I have taken a close interest in facilitating early cancer diagnosis, for instance previously raising lowering the bowel cancer screening age at Prime Minister’s Questions and helping push the government to agree to this in 2018, and I will continue to work to ensure that coronavirus does not rob York residents of life-saving treatments.