Hundreds of cancer patients in Wales could die because of delays in treatment and screening due to Covid-19, Tenovus Cancer Care has warned.
Cancer services across the country have been put under huge pressure because resources are being used to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak and care providers are working with a reduced number of staff because of infections and self-isolation.
Tenovus Cancer Care, Wales’ leading cancer charity, is calling on the Welsh Government to create a national plan to ensure some vital cancer surgeries can continue and any delayed surgeries and screenings are carried out at the earliest opportunity when the Covid-19 outbreak subsides.
Judi Rhys, Tenovus Cancer Care Chief Executive, said: “I’ve spoken to leading cancer clinicians who believe hundreds, possibly several hundred, cancer patients could die in Wales because of delays in treatment and screening with NHS and private care providers who are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.
“Cancer services were already under huge pressure, but now we are seeing a reduction in theatre space for surgeries and fewer available beds in intensive care units, so many people face having their surgery delayed for some time.
“Highly-specialised staff who normally deliver radiotherapy are being deployed to other areas and chemotherapy treatments are being delayed because of the risk of infection to patients. Sick and dying cancer patients who received community-based care also facing serious issues when trying to access their usual levels of care.
“At the other end of the spectrum people who suspect they have symptoms of cancer will struggle to access GP services or Rapid Diagnostic Centres and follow-up and planned screenings have been postponed, so this issue is affecting the entire cancer pathway.
“We understand Covid-19 is presenting our healthcare systems with huge challenges but it is important cancer patients and their needs are not forgotten about during this time. Vaughan Gething previously said cancer care would continue across Wales but clearly this is no longer the case and we now need the Welsh Government to set out an honest, clear plan for cancer care for those needing treatment now and in the months ahead.”
Bowel cancer patient Wayne John and his wife Dianne, who has endometrial cancer, have been left worried by the delays in scans and treatment since the outbreak.
Mr John, from Swansea, said: “My wife has a suspected peritoneal cancer (a rare type of cancer that can develop when gynaecological cancers spread) and was due to have a CT scan on Monday 16th March but was called on the Friday before to say that it was cancelled.
“I was due to have an MRI for an on-going issue with a post-surgical infection and was told this was going ahead as it was considered urgent, but clearly my wife’s scan is far more urgent than mine.
“When I called the hospital to speak the consultant, the person I spoke to agreed Dianne’s scan was urgent and said someone would call back to rearrange it but we have not heard anything since.
“The delays and confusion are very worrying. We completely understand that it was impossible to plan for the Covid-19 outbreak but the lives of cancer and other patients need to be considered because otherwise there are going to be a lot of hidden victims of this crisis.”
Tenovus Cancer Care is providing support for cancer patients and their loved ones through its free, nurse-led Support Line which is available every day on 0808 808 1010.