As the pandemic appears to be reaching its crescendo, thoughts are now turning to clearing the backlog of cancer patients that continue to wait for treatment. In the United Kingdom, close to a quarter of a million patients have been waiting for longer than 12 months to receive treatment.
That figure is the highest it has been since April 2008 and it comes as the country’s health service has been bogged down by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with doctors and nurses working above capacity. Fewer patients have been coming forward with symptoms out of fear of catching Covid, understandably, despite GPs campaigning for anyone who discovers a potential sign of cancer.
Now that vaccinations have been administered to most of the population, at least in selected countries, it now appears that the end is finally in sight and life as we knew it is soon to return. While, for many, this means that activities such as holidays and parties can go ahead, for others this means that they can look forward to receiving life-saving treatment.
Why Cancer Treatment Has Been Delayed
At the beginning of the pandemic, scientists warn that the pandemic would hit in waves and, in the UK, two waves have hit – both of which had devastating peaks with hospitals overrun with patients. ICU units were running above capacity and, in many cases, medical staff were not equipped with proper PPE, which put themselves at danger of contracting the virus and passing it on to their colleague and other patients they may have come into contact with.
Along with hospitals working above capacity, many other medical centres have been closed throughout the pandemic due to social distancing regulations. This has often meant that people in need of an appointment have had to travel further afield to see a doctor (unless they have been given the option of either a telephone or video consultation.
Some forms of cancer treatment have been paused as they compromise the body’s immune system which, in the middle of a pandemic, puts the patient at heightened risk. Treatments such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy are noted for hitting the immune system, whereby even a simple common cold can leave a patient bed-ridden.
Many centres’ supportive care units have been finding it difficult to offer the level of care demanded by patients, especially with the most vulnerable being asked to shield (isolate). While it hasn’t quite gotten to the disastrous point where doctors have been forced to choose who does and does not receive treatment, at points, it has not been far off.
The Road Back to Normality
At the time of writing, the UK is set for a full reopening day on 19th July, which is the revised date from the original so-called ‘Freedom Day’ slated for 21st June. That means that all restrictions are scheduled to be lifted with the country reaching the point of herd immunity through natural infections and vaccinations.
Although positive tests will continue to be confirmed, as the virus makes its way through unvaccinated parts of the population (such as children), hospitalisations and deaths are now the key deciding factors. It appears that the link between cases and deaths has been broken, although not entirely as some will, unfortunately, lose their lives having contracted the virus. It is up to politicians what they deem to be an ‘acceptable’ figure.
With the world reopening, that also means a return to full capacity medical, which is great news for cancer patients and those who have been reluctant to see a doctor with symptoms. This can only be a good thing and, as waiting lists continue to grow, the need is the greatest it has been for a long time.