Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer at Rutherford Health and the former head of the WHO’s cancer programme, called for the action plan as the NHS and the government explore urgent measures to kick start cancer services across the UK.
Professor Sikora’s five-point plan includes:
- Keeping cancer centres and treatment areas ‘Covid-free’ – this should include monitoring all patients for Covid-19 symptoms (temperature checks) and PCR tests for all staff at least once a week (similar to what the Premier League is doing with players/staff).
- Monitor cancer biopsy numbers closely for predicting treatment surge – existing data suggests that a surge could be due around August/September.
- Using all available capacity including the independent sector which collectively have 27 cancer treatment centres/units. These centres are scattered throughout the UK and can meet regional demand spikes for cancer services.
- Coordinate prioritisation of patients in both diagnostic and treatment pathways – ensure that accelerated regimens are in place to urgently treat patients who stand to be adversely affected by any delays.
- Instigate weekend and double shift working through the peak – preparing our personnel and facilities in anticipation of the peak, much like the NHS did so successfully with Covid-19.
Professor Sikora stated: “The cancer backlog caused by Covid-19 is bigger than we anticipated. There is a real sense of urgency now about how we get things back to normal and crucially, how we deal with the backlog that has already built up.
“The figures from Cancer Research UK last week highlighted the importance of implementing an urgent response right away; over 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, treatment or tests due to Covid-related disruption to the NHS.
“This now requires a coordinated national response. Delays to cancer diagnosis and treatment can come with a high price. Even modest delays can have a big impact on a patient’s quality of life and even survival. This in turn can feed a cycle of further delays in the health system which could last for many months or years, with terrible health outcomes.
“The good news is that we can still prevent a worst-case scenario. Covid-19 showed that we are capable of rising to the challenge. The NHS response to the pandemic has been fantastic and ensured that services remained within capacity throughout the peak. A similar effort is now necessary. The backlog must be overcome or it will weigh down cancer services for the foreseeable future.
“The NHS has already initiated a number of measures to deal with this, but we may need to scale things up considerably and make this a coordinated national effort. Failure to do so could lead to us facing another ‘peak’ in the coming months – this time for cancer.”