A piece in today’s Times:
Thousands of men are waiting to learn whether they have prostate cancer because of delays in NHS referrals as waiting lists reach a record high, data suggests.
The pandemic has led to about 52,000 fewer urgent prostate cancer referrals in England alone, according to statistics from the charity Prostate Cancer UK. It is estimated that at least 8,600 fewer men started treatment for the cancer last year than in 2019, a reduction of almost one third.
The charity warned that this number was set to grow and many men could have their cancer diagnosed too late for treatment. The fall in referrals is largely attributed to fewer men seeing their GP during this time.
Early prostate cancer often has no symptoms and the charity has urged the public to use its online checker to see if they could be at risk.
Professor Peter Johnson, the NHS’s national clinical director for cancer, said: “Prostate cancer, like all cancers, is easier to treat successfully if we can find it early. If men are worried it is important they get checked.”
The latest NHS statistics show that the number of people waiting for all medical treatment in England has reached a record high, with urgent cancer referrals dropping significantly.
Figures from NHS England show that 4.59 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of January, the highest number since records began in August 2007.
In January the number who had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment stood at 304,044, the highest number for any calendar month since January 2008. In January last year the number having to wait more than 52 weeks was 1,643.
The data shows the impact of lockdown, with a 54 per cent drop in the number of people admitted for routine treatment in January compared with a year earlier. Nearly 380,000 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test, such as ultrasound or MRI, in January compared with 46,157 a year earlier.
Tim Mitchell, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that the numbers “reflect the dire situation that engulfed our hospitals in January” when tens of thousands of treatments were cancelled because of Covid-19.
“Behind today’s statistics are people in limbo. Many will be in considerable pain, others will have restricted mobility and be at risk of isolation and loneliness. Dealing with this daunting backlog will take time, and also sustained investment in the NHS,” he said.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, praised NHS staff but added: “Today’s data reveals the incredibly steep mountain the NHS must climb as it seeks to clear the substantial backlog of care.”
In separate figures from an annual survey of nearly 600,000 NHS staff published yesterday, nearly half reported feeling unwell as a result of work- related stress.
NHS England said that about 400,000 more people received planned care and 70,000 more were admitted for emergency care during January’s pandemic surge than last April.
It said that average waiting times for non-urgent surgery had fallen by more than 38 per cent since July, and efforts were being made to tackle the backlog.
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