Thousands of cancer patients will be operated on at new “Covid-free” hubs in hospitals across England as the NHS consolidates urgent surgery in fewer locations.
Although trusts have been told all essential cancer treatment must continue, despite the NHS focus on coronavirus, cancer referrals have dropped by about 70 per cent as people shy away from seeking help. A survey by NHS England of 1,000 people found a third were worried about making an appointment with their GP.
Among the reasons given for avoiding treatment are fear of catching coronavirus, giving it to family members, and being a burden on the health service. Cancer patients already getting treatment have also been told their chemotherapy or surgery is being postponed for fear of leaving their immune system too weakened and putting them at further risk of catching Covid-19.
In a letter from national leaders last month, all NHS trusts were told cancer surgery should be consolidated on a “clean” Covid-19-free site within the local system, which could include independent sector provision. NHS officials across the UK have urged people with suspected cancer symptoms to seek treatment as they usually would so they can get referred for the right help.
The new virus-free hubs, each within 21 areas of England run by NHS Cancer Alliances, will carry out urgent surgery during the pandemic. Northern Ireland and Scotland are also using some independent hospitals to continue certain procedures in a Covid free environment. A Welsh Government spokesperson said that the NHS should continue to prioritise cancer treatment.
Queen Victoria Hospital (QVH) in East Grinstead, West Sussex, is the first such designated cancer hub to be established in the South East outside London. It is treating patients across Sussex, Surrey and Kent who have been diagnosed with head and neck, breast and skin cancers.
Cancer Alliance regions
- Lancashire and South Cumbria
- West Yorkshire and Harrogate
- Humber, Coast and Vale
- Cheshire and Merseyside
- Greater Manchester
- South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw
- West Midlands
- East Midlands
- East of England North
- East of England South
- RM [Royal Marsden] Partners
- North Central London
- East London
- South East London
- Thames Valley
- Surrey and Sussex
- Kent and Medway
- SWAG (Somerset, Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire)
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