Covid's UK cancer calamity
The NHS shut down more services during the first year of the pandemic than almost every other country in Europe, a major study reveals.
Cancer-related surgery in UK fell by more than a quarter (26 per cent) in 2020 compared to 2019, potentially slashing patients’ survival chances.
It was the second-highest fall among the 30 countries analysed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranking only behind Romania, which saw a 29.8 per cent drop.
In contrast, Denmark experienced minimal disruption to cancer surgery as a result of Covid, with only a 0.6 per cent fall over the same period, according to the 2022 Health at a Glance report.
Cancer-related hysterectomies were particularly hard hit, with the number performed falling by more than a third (36 per cent) in the UK.
This was more than any other nation and compares to an average fall of 19 per cent among 21 EU countries who provided data.
Meanwhile, knee replacements in the UK fell by 68 per cent and hip replacement by 46 per cent - both also more than any other nation, leaving patients in crippling pain for longer than they would without the outbreak.
Cataract surgery in the UK was down 47 per cent in a year - twice the rate of the average EU fall of 23 per cent and only behind the Czech Republic and Romania.
The report says the demise of elective surgery in the UK was ‘much more pronounced than in all EU countries for which data are available’.
Notably, Estonia performed 2 per cent more hip replacements in 2020 than the year before and knee replacements fell by just 1 per cent in Switzerland.
The NHS cancelled most non-urgent operations and urged the public to stay away from hospitals and GP surgeries at the start of the pandemic as it prioritised Covid patients.
Some patients also chose to stay away from medical facilities out of fear of catching the virus.
Around 38,000 fewer patients received a cancer diagnosis in England in 2020 and 30,000 fewer started their first cancer treatment, compared with 2019.
There have been 900 more deaths from cancer than usual since September, potentially as a result.
A technical briefing published by Sir Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific advisor, warned last week that the postponement of care is likely to contribute to a ‘prolonged period of non-Covid excess mortality and morbidity after the worst period of the pandemic is over’.