Cancer referrals surge above pre-coronavirus levels in Bedford amid concerns over backlog

Macmillan Cancer Support welcomes the news but warns patients are generally waiting longer to see a specialist

Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 4:15 pm

The number of people sent for urgent cancer investigations at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust has risen above pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.

But Macmillan Cancer Support said while an increase in cancer referrals nationally is welcome, more people are waiting longer to be seen – and rising coronavirus rates "risk making this worse".

NHS England data shows 1,965 people were seen by a specialist at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer in September – 7 per cent more than in the same month last year, when 1,837 appointments were recorded by the trust's two predecessors.

Macmillan Cancer Support welcomes the news but warns patients are generally waiting longer to see a specialist

It was also a 25 per cent rise on the 1,567 urgent referrals in August.

The Health Foundation think-tank called the rise "a major milestone for the health service and testament to the huge efforts of NHS staff".

Meanwhile, Macmillan's director of policy, campaigns and influence, Steven McIntosh, said the latest figures show "encouraging improvements", but warned that patients are generally waiting longer to see a specialist than they were last month.

"Rising coronavirus rates now risk making this worse, in the face of an already significant backlog," he added.

"Tens of thousands of people are missing a cancer diagnosis because of Covid-19, and we know that delays to diagnosis and care can cause untold worry and affect chances of survival."

In September, ​89 per cent of patients were checked for suspected cancer at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust within two weeks of an urgent referral, meaning the trust fell behind the NHS target of 93 per cent.

The month before, ​93 per cent of referrals were seen within a fortnight.

An NHS spokesperson said: "The number of people having cancer treatment is now back to pre-pandemic levels and more people came forward for checks in September.

"Local NHS services have put measures in place so that people can continue to be treated safely, including through Covid protected hubs, so our message to the public remains help us help you by coming forward for care."