Coronavirus England: Cancer patients fear dying before they see GP


Furious cancer patients fear they may die before they see a doctor as GP and hospital appointments continue to be hit by delays during the second Covid wave.

Sufferers who have just months to live say they are being reduced to telephone calls with their GPs, rather than face-to-face visits.

One woman, who has an incurable brain tumour, said if she had not fought the delay in her scan she could have passed away before her next assessment.

It comes as referral numbers for some types of cancer are still below their pre-pandemic level as ‘a huge number’ wait for screening, diagnosis and treatment.

The Royal College of GPs say despite the pandemic there are fewer GPs than a year ago – which is causing the ‘knock on effect’ on patients.

Meanwhile leading charities yesterday pleaded with Boris Johnson to protect cancer sufferers after millions were abandoned during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

And a survey of doctors found millions of patients are suffering from more severe illnesses as a result of treatment delays caused by the pandemic.

Sophie Wardle (pictured), 30, from the West Midlands, has an incurable brain tumour and does not have long to live

Ms Wardle was diagnosed with a grade two astrocytoma at 23 and at 27 with a grade three anaplastic astrocytoma

Ms Wardle was diagnosed with a grade two astrocytoma at 23 and at 27 with a grade three anaplastic astrocytoma

The mother of five, who works as a senior health care assistant, has a scan every three months to check for any growth in her tumour to try to prolong her life

The mother of five, who works as a senior health care assistant, has a scan every three months to check for any growth in her tumour to try to prolong her life

Sophie Wardle, 30, from the West Midlands, has an incurable brain tumour and does not have long to live.

She was diagnosed with a grade two astrocytoma at 23 and at 27 with a grade three anaplastic astrocytoma.

The mother of five, who works as a senior health care assistant, has a scan every three months to check for any growth in her tumour to try to prolong her life.

But at the start of the second coronavirus wave she was told she would be reduced to telephone appointments, with no scans for the next three months.

She was due a scan and was furious at the decision, saying another three months could kill her.

She told MailOnline: ‘I just said I can’t wait that long. In three months I could have died from it. It was very annoying.

‘I get how bad the situation is at the moment [with the coronavirus crisis], but I don’t think people with brain tumours should have to wait that long and book their own appointments.’

She added: ‘Some people may not even have the number to call.’

Ms Wardle said doctors originally thought her difficulty breathing and shaking muscles were triggered by university stress and motherhood

Ms Wardle said doctors originally thought her difficulty breathing and shaking muscles were triggered by university stress and motherhood

She had a craniotomy - where part of the skull is removed - to expose her brain so surgeons could get to her orange-sized tumour

She had a craniotomy – where part of the skull is removed – to expose her brain so surgeons could get to her orange-sized tumour

Ms Wardle said doctors originally thought her difficulty breathing and shaking muscles were triggered by university stress and motherhood.

After suffering a seizure while visiting her doctor, she was quickly referred for an MRI scan which detected the tumour in 2014.

She had a craniotomy – where part of the skull is removed – to expose her brain so surgeons could get to her orange-sized tumour.

She was re-diagnosed with another cancerous tumour in August 2018 and is still having treatment.

The tumour was in the frontal temporal lobe of the brain which is responsible for speaking, problem solving and part of the personality.

On March 24, 2014, Ms Wardle had an operation to remove the tumour and then had chemotherapy.

On March 24, 2014, Ms Wardle had an operation to remove the tumour and then had chemotherapy

On March 24, 2014, Ms Wardle had an operation to remove the tumour and then had chemotherapy

But in August 2018, Ms Wardle was devastated when she was again told she had cancer – this time a grade three brain tumour which needed more treatment.

This time, on August 14, 2018, she had an awake craniotomy or ‘awake brain surgery’, in which the patient is conscious during surgery.

It is the preferred method to remove tumours close to important parts of the brain because doctors can test the patient’s function continuously.

Others have also shared their frustration at the hospital delays brought about by the second wave of the coronavirus crisis.

Many have taken to online forums, where some worry they will not live to see their next appointment while others are waiting to find out if they have the disease.

Nikki, 44, from South Wales, wrote: ‘I have waited about seven weeks to be seen at the breast clinic after an urgent referral which was meant to be within 10 days.

‘I had a mammogram on 19th October but only went to the clinic on 4th November.

‘They did an exam and an ultrasound then said they needed to take some biopsies of the lump as it was very suspicious.

‘I was then seen again by the consultant who has squeezed me in to a fully booked clinic on Monday to give me the results and discuss a treatment plan as they are almost certain it is cancer and will need to start treatment as soon as possible.

‘This has frightened the life out of me as I am now worrying about every other little ache and pain I have.

‘I’ve had a constant headache for a few weeks now as well as pain in my arm and back.

At the start of the second coronavirus wave Ms Wardle was told she would be reduced to telephone appointments, with no scans for the next three months

At the start of the second coronavirus wave Ms Wardle was told she would be reduced to telephone appointments, with no scans for the next three months

‘I guess I am just stressing about the results tomorrow but have to feel lucky that I have less than a week to wait for the results after reading about the waiting times some of you are going through.’

Another woman, called Ruby, wrote: ‘Found a pea size hard movable lump three weeks ago. GP did just think it was cyst so didn’t mark my referral as urgent.

‘I’m told its a six month wait. Don’t think I can wait that long with it on my mind! She told me not to keep checking the lump.

‘It definitely feels different to any other lumps and bumps and it wasn’t there a few weeks ago. Is six months too long to wait?’

Have YOU had your treatment delayed?

Email james.gant@mailonline.co.uk

One user, who did not share her name, posted: ‘This morning has been a roller coaster.’

She continued: ‘Wednesday: 9am emailed the surgery on their askmygp app. Typed in ‘ I’ve found a lump in my breast ‘. Cue tears…

‘Couple of hours pass while I try and concentrate on nothing much. Call from clinician at the surgery.

‘Lots of questions about where it is, how big it is, does it move, is it attached, any redness, any discharge.

‘Referred to breast clinic. Usually two weeks but because of Covid they are a bit behind.

‘Could be 3 weeks. Be prepared they will probably do an ultra sound scan and a biopsy there and then.’

A woman called Angel said online: ‘I was in hospital and had a CT scan almost seven weeks ago when they discovered a lump in my breast and said they would refer me to the breast clinic three weeks ago.

‘I found out the referral wasn’t done and the hospital were very apologetic, which dosent help me and its been four weeks since the referral was done.

‘Does anyone know how long they waited to be seen by the breast clinic as I’m so worried I’ll fall through the net again?’

And another added: ‘I’ve been told I’m on the urgent list for a referral to the gynae [gynaecologist] but it’s been over a week now.

‘Shouldn’t I be seen within two weeks? I haven’t even had any details about an appointment through.’

Cancer Research UK found patients suffering from lung cancer or urological cancers are ‘well below where they were last year’.

It said yesterday trials are getting back up and running but ‘it is happening slower than we would like’.

Charities have previously warned there could be 50,000 people with the disease that do not know they have it.

In a blog post, Matt Sample wrote: ‘The numbers of people being urgently referred for suspected cancer are almost back to the levels seen at the same time last year.

Gran ‘sacrificed’ as chemo halted 

Grandmother Lesley Adshead worked for the NHS for 17 years but died of ovarian cancer ten weeks after her treatment was stopped – leaving her family feeling betrayed.

The 61-year-old had two sessions of chemotherapy in February but was told on March 23, the day lockdown was announced, there was nothing more that could be done.

Her daughter Tracy Keelan, 43, said: ‘My mum was sacrificed to concentrate on Covid rather than people already poorly with long-term tragic illnesses. I don’t think it’s fair the way my mum was treated and we need justice for cancer patients. We want to make sure no-one has to go through this.’

Mrs Adshead, from Salford, died on June 1 after a two-year battle with the disease. Mrs Keelan and her sister Hayley Moss, 40, feel she was let down after a long career as a clinical support worker at Salford Royal Hospital.

Mrs Moss said: ‘My mum was so well-loved. Sadly, when she needed our NHS the most, she was let down badly. It was a kick in teeth.’

‘It’s a positive sign that initiatives like the ”Help Us Help You” campaign by the NHS in England are working to encourage patients to see their GP if they’ve noticed anything unusual.

‘But challenges still exist. For some cancer types, such as lung cancer or urological cancers, referral numbers are still well below where they were last year.

‘While trials are getting back up and running, this is happening slower than we would like.

‘And even with increasing activity, there’s still huge numbers of people waiting for screening, diagnosis and treatment.

‘So it’s vital that cancer services and clinical trials can continue to recover and not go backwards again as Covid-19 cases rise again.’

But the Royal College of GPs said the number of GPs has decline since last year – despite the pandemic emerging.

Its chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘GPs and our teams have been working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, ensuring our services remain available albeit delivered differently – in line with official guidance from NHS England – to keep patients and staff safe, and help stop the spread of Covid-19.

‘We’re aware that many patients, and GPs alike, prefer face to face consultations, but we’ve found that generally patients have been understanding about the reasons for the new ways of working.

‘We are in the middle of a pandemic, Covid-19 rates are high, and we must balance safe access to our services with good infection control.

‘That being said, when clinically necessary – such as when physical examinations or childhood vaccinations are required – or when remote consultations have not been appropriate, face to face consultations have been and will continue to be arranged in as safe a way as possible.

‘Currently more than 400,000 appointments are being delivered face to face in general practice every day.

‘GPs and our teams are making more patient contacts than before the pandemic, as well as delivering the largest and most complicated flu vaccination programme ever and now prepare to play our part in the delivery of the Covid vaccine.

‘The resource and workforce pressures that were facing general practice before the pandemic are still a reality – there are fewer fully trained, full-time equivalent GPs working in general practice than a year ago.

‘A knock on effect of this is that patients often have to wait longer for an appointment than they want to, and longer than we want them to. This needs to be addressed.

‘While news of the Covid vaccine is promising, there is some way to go. In the meantime, we would encourage people to continue to help stop the spread of the virus by adhering to social distancing measures and maintaining good hygiene practices.

‘If patients are concerned about their health, or have signs that could be symptoms of serious illness, such as cancer, we would urge them to contact 111 or their GP – and in an emergency, they should call 999.’

Leading charities pleaded with Boris Johnson to protect cancer sufferers after millions were abandoned during the first Covid-19 lockdown. NHS worker and grandmother Lesley Adshead (left, with daughters Hayley Moss and Tracy Keelan), 61, died of ovarian cancer ten weeks after her treatment was stopped – leaving her family feeling betrayed.

Leading charities pleaded with Boris Johnson to protect cancer sufferers after millions were abandoned during the first Covid-19 lockdown. NHS worker and grandmother Lesley Adshead (left, with daughters Hayley Moss and Tracy Keelan), 61, died of ovarian cancer ten weeks after her treatment was stopped – leaving her family feeling betrayed.

In a hard-hitting letter, the head of Cancer Research UK demanded a firm commitment that diagnosis, treatment and clinical trials will not be delayed again.

The appeal by chief executive Michelle Mitchell is supported by 49 other charities and top doctors.

With England in a second lockdown, the signatories insist the Government must ‘learn lessons’ and ensure patients are treated better.

They call for Covid-free ‘safe spaces’ for them and more frequent testing of NHS staff while private hospitals must be on standby for use.

The letter comes amid growing concern pauses in treatment in the first lockdown left many patients with a shortened life expectancy and some have even died.

Damning figures from the first wave suggest up to 35,000 extra deaths next year may be caused by cancer as a result of the pandemic.

Crippling pain – but mum wasn’t seen till bowel disease had spread

Gym coach Brenda Chirila, 42, began suffering severe stomach pains in March but her GP was only seeing emergencies.

‘I knew something was wrong but I wasn’t collapsed on the floor, I could still breathe,’ she said. Mrs Chirila, who has a daughter, Emily, 11, could not get an appointment until the end of June.

She was given a routine hospital referral for August 22 but four days before that, she collapsed at home in Lymm, Cheshire, and was rushed to A&E.

Gym coach Brenda Chirila, 42, began suffering severe stomach pains in March but her GP was only seeing emergencies (pictured with daughter Emily)

Gym coach Brenda Chirila, 42, began suffering severe stomach pains in March but her GP was only seeing emergencies (pictured with daughter Emily)

Mrs Chirila had scans at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, and was told she had advanced bowel cancer which had spread to her liver.

‘No-one was allowed in when they gave me the news, not even my husband George,’ she said yesterday. She has begun chemotherapy hoping to shrink the tumour.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe page ‘Trying to make life a little bit easier’ to help give Emily a special Christmas.

At least three million people are waiting for screening while around 350,000 have not had the urgent referrals they needed this year.

Experts estimate there are 50,000 patients with undiagnosed cancer due to Covid-19 chaos – a backlog which could take up to 18 months to tackle in England.

Miss Mitchell said: ‘The Government cannot wait any longer to give the NHS the support it needs.

‘Now is the time to ensure that cancer patients are protected in a second wave and to invest to improve survival for future patients.

‘The pandemic has already had a devastating impact on the lives of cancer patients. We must not see this repeated.’

Other charities which have signed include Breast Cancer Now, Prostate Cancer UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Brain Tumour Research, Ovarian Cancer Action and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Backing came from top clinicians such as Professor Peter Selby, of the Association of Cancer Physicians, and Dr Jeanette Dickson, president of The Royal College of Radiologists.

Their letter, also sent to the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, states: ‘People affected by cancer have suffered terribly as a result of this pandemic.

‘We’re asking you to act to uphold your ambition to improve cancer survival across our four nations.

‘Millions were left waiting for screening and thousands went without a referral for tests.

‘Over 30,000 fewer people started their treatment and most cancer clinical trials were paused.

‘We must learn lessons from earlier in the year. As Covid-19 cases rise, it’s imperative there are no further delays to essential cancer diagnosis, treatment and clinical trials.’

The charities also ask for urgent measures to deal with ‘deep-seated challenges’ within cancer services.

Meanwhile one in three doctors said they were now treating non-Covid patients with worse symptoms than prior to the crisis.

They warned of a growing crisis of patients who are in agony because of either delays in seeking help or treatment cancellations during the first lockdown.

The survey by the Royal College of Physicians found nearly all doctors – 92 per cent – are concerned about the impact increasing Covid-19 admissions will have on their hospital’s ability to deliver effective care.

The college, which represents more than 25,000 doctors, said the second wave has already had major repercussions on the NHS, with patient admissions rising across all regions of the UK.

Nine out of ten doctors said they had seen increasing Covid-19 admissions over the previous two weeks, particularly across the midlands and north of England.

Thousands of doctors self-isolating while waiting for Covid-19 results

Thousands of doctors are having to self-isolate while waiting for coronavirus test results, according to a survey.

One in eight are having to wait more than three days for corona test results with fewer than one in three (29 per cent) getting tested and results within 24 hours, as they should be.

The poll, carried out by the Royal College of Physicians, suggested delays to results were having a significant impact on staffing levels as winter approaches.

It comes after the head of the NHS warned around 30,000 NHS staff are either off with Covid-19 or having to self-isolate.

Sir Simon Stevens told a Downing Street press conference last week that growing levels of staff were being struck down by the virus.

The latest survey, which was sent to 25,500 RCP members, found more than one in five (22 per cent) reported that they have had the virus.

But many were being forced to stay away from work as they awaited results with 36 per cent waiting up to 2 days and 18 per cent, 3 days to find out.

Latest test and trace figures show just 26.4 per cent of people received their result within 24 hours.

Many clinicians have also reported ‘long Covid’ as an emerging problem, with patients experiencing a number of long-term symptoms after contracting the virus.

A quarter of doctors (25 per cent) reported having treated patients with the illness in the previous two weeks, with fatigue the most common symptom cited.

It comes days after several trusts, including Leeds Teaching Hospitals and all Greater Manchester Hospital trusts, cancelled routine surgery for patients to cope with rising demand from coronavirus cases.

The latest NHS figures – due out later this week – are expected to show the strain on the NHS from the resurgence of coronavirus as it approaches winter.

NHS trusts have worked hard to catch up on backlogs caused by the pandemic but the waiting list, which last month stood at 4.2million, is expected to grow.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said the results pointed to ‘a long and difficult winter ahead’.

He said: ‘We must also do all we can to ensure that services are maintained for our non-Covid patients.

‘This survey shows that patients are starting to present with more severe illnesses than prior to Covid-19, and they need to know the NHS is able to care for them.’

Reports have shown fears over catching coronavirus or over-burdening the NHS stopped tens of thousands of patients from seeking medical help during the first wave of the pandemic.

Experts fear a repeat would see rising numbers of people dying from illnesses including heart attack, stroke and cancer.

Charities said it was vital all NHS services stayed open this winter and urged the public not to delay getting treatment if they were worried.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and Consultant Cardiologist, said: ‘Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we have seen thousands of excess deaths caused by heart and circulatory diseases unrelated to coronavirus.

‘To prevent further avoidable deaths in the months ahead, we must ensure cardiovascular healthcare remains a priority and that people know to seek help if they are sick.

‘Hopefully, by following the lockdown guidance to stop the spread of the virus, people both with and without Covid-19 will be able to receive the care they need.’

Head of Stakeholder Relations at Brain Tumour Research Hugh Adams added: ‘The sad fact is that cancer doesn’t stop for Covid and delays, whether that’s for diagnostics such as scans or in treatment, can be hugely detrimental to those living with an incurable disease.

‘We know that some cancer patients have suffered as a result of the pandemic and, along with other charities, we are backing a call for the UK Government to ensure the NHS has the funding it needs to get services back on their feet and to transform cancer care for patients.’

Letter to Boris Johnson that warns: You must act NOW 

Dear Prime Minister and First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, and First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland,

Each of your governments has committed to improving cancer survival and ensuring that everyone can still receive cancer diagnosis, treatment and care throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

As we enter a second wave of the pandemic, we ask you to stand by these commitments. Now is the time to back the NHS and invest in cancer care, not only to get services get back on their feet but to transform cancer care in the UK into the world-leading services we all want to see.

Covid-19 has made the challenge ahead tougher. Millions were left waiting for screening and thousands went without a referral for tests. Over 30,000 fewer people started their treatment and most cancer clinical trials were paused. NHS staff have worked tirelessly to give the best care possible, and the situation is improving, but they need more support.

We must learn lessons from earlier in the year. As Covid-19 cases rise again it’s imperative that there are no further delays to essential cancer diagnosis, treatment and clinical trials.

In the coming months:

1 – The public must feel confident if they have suspected cancer symptoms, they will receive a diagnosis swiftly and safely.

2 – Health systems need to have ‘Covid-protected’ safe spaces so that cancer patients can be cared for with minimal risk of exposure to Covid-19.

3 – There must be frequent and rapid Covid-19 testing for all patient-facing NHS staff in primary and secondary care.

4 – We need measures in place to maximise service capacity, including use of the independent sector where needed.

But this alone will not be enough. Cancer services need your help to address deep-seated challenges.

Workforce and equipment shortages – particularly in diagnostics – were holding back cancer services long before the pandemic.

We simply need more staff, and for them to be fully equipped.

The UK Government’s spending review is an opportunity to put your weight behind your commitments and give the NHS what it needs to provide the best cancer care – and for the devolved governments to do the same.

People affected by cancer have already suffered terribly as a result of this pandemic.

We’re asking you to act now to minimise the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on cancer care and uphold your ambition to improve cancer survival across our four nations.

  • Have YOU had your treatment delayed? Email james.gant@mailonline.co.uk 

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