Dame Emma Thompson is among the stars urging the public to seek medical help
A major new NHS campaign urging the public to ‘Help Us Help You’ is being launched to combat the rising backlog of cancer cases caused by coronavirus.
Health chiefs in England will use a celebrity-fronted messages to tell people they will not be viewed as a ‘burden’ if they seek help for ailments unrelated to coronavirus during the pandemic.
The move came as the full impact of lockdown on the health service was revealed, showing more than 110,000 people have been waiting longer than a year treatment.
This number has increased almost 100-fold since February – the month before the Covid lockdown – when it stood at just over 1,100.
Overall, 4.2 million people are waiting for NHS care, with almost 2 million having waited beyond the 18-week target for routine treatment such as cataract operations or hip and knee surgery. And there are thousands fewer people being tested or treated for cancer than at the same time last year.
The waiting lists illustrate just how hard the NHS has been hit by the lockdown – and how it is struggling to clear the treatment backlog.
Charities say the delays – particularly in cancer treatment – are costing lives, while hundreds of thousands are facing winter in ‘excruciating pain’ waiting for help with treatable conditions.
Sara Bainbridge, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘Six months from the start of the pandemic, there were still thousands fewer people being tested or treated for cancer than the same time last year, meaning that the backlog of patients continues to grow. The implications of this are extremely worrying.’
Now celebrities including Gordon Ramsay and Dame Emma Thompson will appear in TV adverts, on billboards and in social media posts to urge people to seek help if they fear they may have cancer.
It came as:
- Ministers were accused of using flimsy data after relying on figures based on fewer than 100 pubs to justify the potential closure of tens of thousands of venues across the North of England;
- It was reported that shielding could be resumed for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people living in virus hotspots;
- Amid Cabinet tensions, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was accused of trying to ‘bounce’ Boris Johnson into closing the hospitality sector in northern cities;
- Nearly 15,000 doctors and scientists joined the call for a rethink of policies;
- The Government said that as of 9am yesterday, there had been a further 17,540 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus and another 77 deaths;
- The average age of people who have died from Covid-19 in England and Wales is 82.4, according to a new study – in contrast, those dying of non-Covid causes since the pandemic began is 81.5;
- Figures showed that more than 1,600 students at two Tyneside universities, and another 100 in Durham, had tested positive, while Nottingham now has the highest virus rate in England;
- It emerged that out of the 205 NHS trusts in England, 153 admitted no more than one Covid patient per day in the last week of September;
- The Housing Secretary said the mandatory wearing of masks in offices would be ‘taken into consideration’.
Speculation intensified last night over the introduction of new lockdown-style restrictions following another rise in cases. Despite growing scientific dissent over the effectiveness of lockdowns as a long-term strategy, one Government adviser warned that coronavirus was ‘holding a gun to Boris Johnson’s head’.
Mr Hancock said the country was at a ‘perilous moment’ in the pandemic, but many Tory MPs and experts are calling for a strategic rethink, warning that lockdown-style measures risk doing more harm than good to public health and the economy in the long run. Yesterday’s figures showed that 111,000 patients were waiting longer than a year for NHS treatment by August, compared to just 1,163 in February. It is the highest figure in 12 years.
The number of people waiting more than 18 weeks to start hospital treatment in England was 1.96 million in August, three times the number for August 2019.
TV chef Gordon Ramsay will appear in the NHS’s new Help Us Help You campaign
The figures also showed that A&E attendances remain low, with 1.7 million in September – 400,000 lower than a year ago. This suggests many patients are still avoiding seeking help because they are worried about being a burden or catching coronavirus in hospital.
Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘The data shows what a mountain the NHS has to climb to get on top of the immense backlog of planned operations.
‘It is also of critical importance that patients continue to come forward to their GPs for referral if they are unwell; early detection of disease always makes for more effective treatment.’
Leading think-tanks said it was time for NHS officials ‘to be honest with patients and the public’ about the state of services. Others said the figures suggested the attempts to catch up with treatments for non-Covid patients had ‘hit a wall’.
Some 169,660 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in August 2020, down from 200,317 in August 2019 – a fall of 15 per cent. This compares with a year-on-year drop of 19 per cent in July, 21 per cent in June and 47 per cent in May.
Urgent breast cancer referrals were down from 13,220 in August 2019 to 9,498 in August 2020, a fall of 28 per cent.
The Help Us Help You campaign comes as new research found nearly half (48%) of the public would delay or not seek medical help at all in such a situation.
A fifth (22%) said they would not want to be a burden on the health service while a similar number said that fear of getting coronavirus or passing it onto others was a major reason for not getting help.
More than four in 10 people would leave it longer to get health advice than they normally would have before the coronavirus outbreak.
Ahead of the launch, chef Gordon Ramsay said: ‘As we head into winter, it’s really important that we remember that despite Covid-19, the NHS can still see us safely.
‘I was really pleased to help reassure the public and remind them that the NHS is here for them when they need it.’
NHS services have put a range of measures in place so that people can be treated safely throughout the pandemic, including Covid-protected cancer surgery hubs.
Almost one million people referred for cancer checks or have started treatment since the outbreak began.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care in England, said: ‘Alongside treating 110,000 people with coronavirus, NHS staff have gone to great lengths to make sure that people who do not have Covid can safely access services.
‘So whether you or a loved one has a routine appointment, or a potential cancer symptom, our message is clear – you are not a burden, we are here to safely care for you so please don’t delay.’
Steven McIntosh, from charity Macmillan, said: ‘We cannot say this strongly enough: if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of cancer – say you notice something new or unusual – we urge you to contact your GP straight away.
‘Delays to cancer diagnosis and treatment can make it harder to treat the cancer and can also reduce people’s chance of survival.
‘Don’t put it off, and don’t think you’re not a priority during coronavirus.’