'Huge problem' with cancer waiting time in Staffordshire
There is a "huge problem" with cancer waiting times across Staffordshire due to the impact of coronavirus, health bosses have said.
But "more worrying" is the number of patients who are on waiting lists and have not yet been diagnosed.
About 334 people in the Midlands who have received a cancer diagnosis are waiting for treatment and about 5,000 people have not even been seen yet, a report by the accountable officer for Staffordshire CCGs, Marcus Warnes, says.
And some of the smaller hospitals are "less able" to keep coronavirus patients separate, according to the chairs' report which was discussed at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs governing body meeting.
The report says: "The impact of Covid-19 has had a significant impact on several areas, but there are concerns both locally and nationally around urgent and emergency care, cancer waits, endoscopy and screening.
"The impact of social distancing requirements on our emergency departments means that some of our smaller hospitals are less equipped for keeping Covid and non-Covid patients separate and this will have a knock on effect on capacity as we move into restoration.
"We also have a huge problem with cancer waits not just for those who have received a diagnosis and a decision to treat but more worrying perhaps is the numbers of patients who are on waiting lists and have not yet received a diagnosis.
"The other two areas that are a cause for concern are backlogs in endoscopy and screening, where activity for colonoscopies is about 30 per cent compared to last year’s activity and activity is at similar levels for other endoscopic procedures."
Dr Rachel Gallyot, clinical chairwoman for East Staffordshire CCG, told the meeting all chairs were working together but there was a "significant challenge".
She said: "There's clearly an ongoing significant challenge stepping up the services with the impact on waiting times, the impact it's had on cancer diagnosis and treatment and patients presenting. Clearly cancer is a priority, endoscopy is also a national priority but capacity remains a significant challenge.
"We're working together with out partners around all the restrictions that are currently in place around the infection, prevention and control.
"But this is a big piece of work going on across the whole of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
"As part of that we've set up a directory of services so GPs are aware of what is available and made it live on the Covid website available to GPs across the county."
Cancer diagnoses in April were about a quarter or a fifth of what would normally be seen in that month, Mr Warnes said.
"Whilst we are still very much managing outbreaks, we are also turning our eyes to stepping up services that were paused during the pandemic, or more importantly ensuring patients have confidence to see their GP, to be referred.
"There's a big backlog of cancer cases that need to be referred," he added.
"There are issues with lengthening waiting lists for elective care.
"In the Midlands before the pandemic four people had waited more than 52 weeks for their elective care, at the moment there's about 2,500.
"We've gone from a position of having virtually no one waiting 52 weeks to having lots and lots of people waiting much longer for their care."
He added: "Covid-19 has resulted in reduced diagnostic capacity across the NHS. However, a great deal of effort is now going into the restoration and recovery of diagnostic services and cancer services as a whole.
"The CCGs are working with all our providers to restore cancer diagnostic services as early diagnosis is key to successful treatment.
"Referrals have been prioritised throughout the pandemic by our providers with fastrack referrals being given the highest priority.
"We are also urging people who think they may have cancer symptoms to seek help through the Help Us Help You campaign.”
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