SUE REID: Cancer victims forgotten, vital operations cancelled and ghost town A&Es


The photographs show the deserted casualty departments at two of our biggest hospitals.

They were taken in the daytime amid the lockdown ordered by the Government to fight the lethal virus Covid-19.

In normal times, the waiting room at the Royal London, in the East End’s Whitechapel, would be busy with 500 patients walking in from the streets to see a doctor every 24 hours.

Yet, as the photo below – taken on a Saturday afternoon – shows, the place is empty.

Not a chair filled, no one at the vending machine, and the usual queue at the reception desk non-existent.

The person who took the picture, a Mail reader and medic, said the image was deeply worrying.

Here, in a picture supplied to The Mail by a member of the public, is the Royal London Hospital A&E waiting room at 4pm on Saturday afternoon

‘A tragedy is unfolding because people are scared of catching the coronavirus if they set foot in a hospital,’ she explained.

‘They are staying at home even if they have serious illnesses and this will cost countless lives. Where are all those with heart attacks and strokes? No one is coming here.’

It is a concern shared by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who this week urged non-coronavirus patients requiring urgent care to seek help immediately. He said: ‘The NHS is there for you.’

He was speaking in the House of Commons after doctors and medical charities warned of a hidden health crisis among non-Covid patients who, it is feared, could die in their thousands.

A frightened public are avoiding accident and emergency departments for fear of the virus, or of overburdening the NHS.

The number of people presenting at A&E with suspected heart attacks has halved since the beginning of March, from 300 to 150 a day.

It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people normally expected in casualty in the same time period have simply not turned up.

At the same time, routine hospital treatments and investigations such as cancer screening have been suspended while resources are diverted in the fight against Covid-19.

One of Britain’s most experienced cancer doctors, Karol Sikora, warned in the Mail this week that our healthcare system has abandoned its ‘bread and butter’ work of routine operations, tests and scans.

This is the St Thomas Hospital, in central London, A&E waiting room at 4pm last Friday afternoon. The picture was supplied by a member of the public

This is the St Thomas Hospital, in central London, A&E waiting room at 4pm last Friday afternoon. The picture was supplied by a member of the public

Cancer Research UK has warned that 2,700 cancers a week are currently going undiagnosed.

In addition, ambulance emergency response times are their worst on record, causing heart attack victims to wait two hours on average, sometimes with fatal consequences.

And on top of all this, many who are seriously ill and awaiting life-saving operations or treatment are being turned away by doctors who fear their patients may catch the virus on the wards of our beleaguered hospitals.

Organ transplants, for example, have fallen dramatically. Last spring more than 80 a week were carried out.

Now just a handful of the most urgent heart and liver cases are being operated on weekly, as surgeons shy away from putting patients in intensive care units close to highly-infectious Covid-19 sufferers.

The tragic result is that across the UK, we are seeing a dramatic increase in deaths from illnesses other than the virus.

And because so many people are not being diagnosed with serious ailments, there will be many more in the future.

The Office for National Statistics last week revealed that deaths in England and Wales in the week to April 10 were the highest for 20 years. Of course, much of this was due to the virus.

But nearly 1,800 of these additional fatalities were not caused directly by it. Doctors have described the phenomenon as the ‘collateral damage’ of Covid-19.

So who are the victims of this hidden health crisis?

The Mail has spoken to critically ill patients who are now waiting desperately for treatment to save them.

They do not blame those struck down with Covid-19, but many believe our overstretched NHS has abandoned them in their hour of need.

One is 32-year-old Lara Wahab, an advertising agency executive, who is awaiting an organ transplant at a specialist Oxford hospital.

Lara, who lives with her sister in north London, suffers from Type 1 diabetes and has had the condition since she was seven.

Lara Wahab, 32, an advertising agency executive, is awaiting an organ transplant at a specialist Oxford hospital

Lara Wahab, 32, an advertising agency executive, is awaiting an organ transplant at a specialist Oxford hospital 

In April last year she was told that her kidneys were failing and was put forward for a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant.

It involves waiting for a deceased donor who would need to be the perfect match for both organs.

Waiting for the phone call for matching organs was like living on a knife’s edge, she says. But then, she adds, came ‘the plot twist: coronavirus’.

One day, she logged on to her patient portal and found her transplant status had been changed from active to suspended because of the ICU bed shortage caused by the virus.

She is now in limbo and urging the Government ‘not to forget’ patients like her in the battle against coronavirus. ‘I want the public to know that we are also the fallout of a virus like this,’ she says.

But Lara is just one of many caught out in what can only be described as a nightmare.

Duncan McLean, a father of two from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, has been battling aggressive bladder cancer and was due to have an operation on May 1.

The 39-year-old has already had a total of 33 tumours removed in hospital surgery.

Duncan McLean, a father of two from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, has been battling aggressive bladder cancer and was due to have an operation on May 1

Duncan McLean, a father of two from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, has been battling aggressive bladder cancer and was due to have an operation on May 1

He explained this week: ‘I was told that my operation would be going ahead. Then I got a call two days later from an NHS call centre telling me it was cancelled because of the virus.

‘It was followed with a letter from the consultant at my hospital, the Lister in Stevenage, confirming it was being pushed back six or eight weeks “subject to how the coronavirus progresses”.

‘My cancer has grown faster and I’m panicking as it now has free rein in my body. Common sense needs to prevail. When the virus has left us, we will have people who were not given medical help and had their lives put at risk.

‘The virus is horrific, but people are still having strokes and heart attacks. You can’t just stop their treatments. There are hundreds of hospitals across the UK. Why don’t they designate at least one without corona patients to deal with people like me?’

Desperately worried, too, is Ben Hurd, a 33-year-old from Barnsley in South Yorkshire with an aggressive brain tumour who needs chemotherapy to shrink his cancer.

‘The doctors say there may be other patients with the virus on the transport they lay on to take me to the hospital in Sheffield, an hour away, for the treatment. I cannot go any more in case I catch it from them,’ he explains.

Ben, a care home chef who lives at home with his parents, is being advised by the charity Brain Tumour Research, which says that patients are being thrown into a ‘world of uncertainty’ because of the coronavirus crisis.

Last May Ben started getting headaches and flashing lights in his left eye.

A scan revealed lesions in the brain and he was operated on over seven hours that month as an emergency.

The operation removed most of his tumour, but sadly not all of it.

He has been told he has 12 to 18 months to live.

The only thing that might turn the tide is the chemo treatment for which he needs regular blood checks at the hospital.

‘They talk about me getting back to the doctors at the end of May, but for now I can only keep my fingers crossed,’ he says.

Yet another patient cruelly facing a transplant delay in the pandemic is Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, who has lived with the liver complaint hepatitis since contracting it as a baby.

The 29-year-old’s liver is now failing as she awaits a new donor organ.

She feels ‘swept aside’ as her treatment is put on hold because she may get the coronavirus if she goes to hospital even for tests.

‘The longer I am not being monitored, the longer I leave it, I could get sicker,’ she says.

Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, 29, has lived with the liver complaint hepatitis since contracting it as a baby

Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, 29, has lived with the liver complaint hepatitis since contracting it as a baby

‘Going into hospital with corona patients makes me terrified I could catch the virus. It’s a matter of my life or death.’

But it is not just hospitals that are restricting NHS treatment. The public themselves are reluctant to go to A&E because they are scared of contracting the virus.

An 80-year-old, Marita Edwards, is thought to have been the first person to die from catching the disease in a British hospital.

Mrs Edwards, who had no underlying health conditions, went into Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, South Wales, in late February for a routine gallbladder operation.

She later developed an infection, which was thought to be pneumonia. She died after testing positive for Covid-19 three weeks on from arriving at the hospital.

Mrs Edwards is not the only person to have died from the virus after catching it in hospital. Little wonder people are becoming terrified of going into them.

A Mail investigation over several weeks shows how casualty departments have emptied dramatically.

Up and down the country, the Mail has found that hospital A&Es that struggled to cope last winter with astronomically high numbers are now deserted.

At the Royal Stoke University Hospital in Staffordshire, where in 2018 disturbing photos showed casualty patients lying on beds in corridors, we discovered that the casualty arrival rate of 11,000 a month has plummeted.

Official figures released on the hospital’s website this week showed that on Wednesday, when we checked figures over 12 hours, there were never more than 30 patients waiting for treatment.

In the past it might have run into hundreds. It was the same low tally at other hospitals and walk-in centres in the city.

But perhaps the most revealing evidence, sent in by a second reader, is a photo showing the waiting room at St Thomas’ Hospital, central London, where Boris Johnson’s life was saved with oxygen therapy when he caught coronavirus.

Across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, the hospital’s casualty department is normally packed.

On a Friday afternoon, just after the lockdown was announced last month, our picture reveals there was just one man there waiting to see a doctor.

As an emergency nurse at the hospital told the Mail: ‘The staff are here. They wait in vain for patients.

‘We are facing a deep suspicion from British people who have always trusted the NHS.

‘We are worried that the relationship of trust between the public and the health service is being broken.’

The Covid-19 crisis is, indeed, terrifying. Thousands today lie in our hospitals fighting against the deadly Covid-19.

But the truth is that many others may lose their lives because of it. And they will never even have caught the killer virus that is changing the world we know. 

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