Covid-19 pandemic's impact on Leeds cancer services is revealed in latest figures
Figures show the toll the pandemic continues to take on those waiting for cancer treatments or tests despite the best efforts of health staff who are said to have gone “above and beyond” to keep the services going.
Hospital bosses have been maintaining focus on the top two priority groups - clinically urgent and cancer - throughout this latest wave but data shows many people have gone undiagnosed with tests and treatments disrupted.
The percentage of patients receiving their first cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral had fallen to a record low at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust by January this year - with just 58.8 per cent, against the NHS standard of 85-90 per cent.
However, a report to this Thursday’s hospital board meeting says this “remains within normal process control limits” and ranks the trust 116 out of 137 trusts nationally.
The report says that following an initial fall in cancer activity between March and June 2020, activity has now risen again and in January was functioning at 84 per cent of the level reached in the same month last year.
The 62-day backlog of patients currently stands at 254 people, with the report adding: “Within this, confirmed cancers have grown from 74 to 95, meaning that the majority of the current backlog in the diagnostic stage as unconfirmed cancer.”
The number of possible cancer patients seen for tests within 14 days of a GP referral - another NHS standard - was down to 67.4 per cent for January 2021 - substantially lower than the national target of 93 per cent but not as low as levels fell in August 2020.
The report said the majority of patients waiting over 14 days were in the breast service - where social distancing is a “significant challenge” - followed by colorectal and gynaecology.
Bosses at Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), in their latest board papers, said urgent referral rates have now largely returned to pre-Covid-19 levels, despite a dip during the peak in January.
“However, there continues to be some areas where referrals continue to remain higher and are presenting challenges from a capacity point of view including breast, lower GI and gynaecology.
“There is ongoing work with the Cancer Alliance to identify opportunities for joint working and discussions with the Harrogate hospital to help with some Breast two-week-wait patients as this is a particular area of concern despite additional clinics being arranged,.” the CCG report said.
It said cancer performance continues to be discussed and monitored through a working group and via a fortnightly joint meeting between the Cancer Alliance, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Dr Kathryn Scott, chief executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “It’s very encouraging to see the continued decline of Covid-19 cases in Leeds.
“NHS staff in the city have gone above and beyond in ensuring cancer services could operate as best they could throughout the pandemic.
“But sadly, many people have gone undiagnosed, tests and treatments were disrupted, and cancer clinical trials were paused or slowed down.
“Thanks to everyone following the rules imposed during lockdown, the pressure on NHS services has been significantly eased and we are now reaching a position where we can begin to clear the cancer ‘backlog’ – all the cancer activity that didn’t take place, such as people feeling able to contact their GP, presenting with symptoms, receiving invitations to screening or receiving treatment.
“Our message for people in Leeds is to please contact your GP if you are worried about any possible symptoms of cancer. It probably won’t be cancer, but if it is, an early diagnosis means that it can usually be treated more successfully. It’s vital that people now start coming forward.”
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