A specialist new group is leading the way by studying the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on cancer patients across the East of England.
Among the first of its kind in the country, the Regional Cancer Outcomes Group was set up by the East of England Cancer Alliances to analyse detailed data from across the region and work with local healthcare systems to address the findings.
Outstanding efforts by local cancer teams mean that waiting times for diagnosis and treatment have been kept to an absolute minimum while treatment volumes have grown higher than before the pandemic.
Between March 2020 and July 2021, the NHS in the East of England delivered more than 47,400 first cancer treatments for patients in the region. Treatment levels were restored to pre-pandemic levels from March 2021.
During July 2021, more than 25,700 people across the region received urgent cancer checks on a two-week wait cancer pathway – when compared to the same month pre-COVID that’s six per cent higher than usual – having been referred to a hospital specialist by their GP.
The number of people getting checked for cancer across England continued to be high with more than 222,000 people getting checked in July – that is 3,000 more patients than pre-COVID.
While it is testament to the hard work of NHS staff nationally that 400,000 people started cancer treatment in the first 16 months of the pandemic (March 20- July 21) that is around 35,000 fewer patients than the NHS would have expected to see in that time, with a similar pattern in the East of England.
The highest priority remains identifying those people and starting treatment as soon as possible.
The Regional Cancer Outcomes Group includes patient representation and the clinical lead is Dr Linda Hunter, Associate Medical Director at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust and Clinical Director of the East of England Cancer Alliance (north).
Linda said: “We are using the East of England Regional Cancer Outcomes Group’s wide-ranging expertise to improve the measurement and understanding of cancer outcomes during Covid-19 and how the pandemic has impacted patients in the region.
“This information will be used to provide an evidence base for interventions and strategic planning with our clinical teams across the region as we are recovering from the pandemic.
“We are proud of the way NHS cancer care has continued throughout the pandemic, despite the exceptional demands and constraints on our cancer workforce caused by Covid-19.
“However, we can see nationally and locally that some cancer referrals are not as high as we would normally expect, and we want to encourage people to continue to come forward for care if they experience any symptoms.
“The NHS Help Us Help You campaign is reminding everyone of what to look out for and urging people not to hesitate in contacting their GP if they have any symptoms that could indicate cancer. These symptoms include: a cough lasting three weeks or more, tummy discomfort or diarrhoea lasting three weeks or more, or seeing blood in your pee even just once.
“We want everyone in the East of England to share this message with their family and friends, to seek early help for any warning signs and attend cancer screenings when invited.”
The Regional Cancer Outcomes Group was set up and is chaired by Sarah Miller, Head of Informatics at East of England Cancer Alliances.
Sarah said: “It is crucial that we learn every lesson we can from the Covid-19 pandemic. This group was set up to bring a data-driven approach to help quantify the impact on cancer patients in the East of England.
“Ultimately the aim is that we augment the data and evidence with clinical, operational and patient expertise to better understand cancer services and treatments in the region and identify key actions.
“Once we know more about what the data tells us, we can target specific support to where it is needed, setting out truly evidence-based priorities.”
The East of England Cancer Alliances work with the NHS and partner organisations to transform cancer services across the region and deliver the NHS Long Term Plan commitments for people affected by cancer.
Notes to editors
East of England has two Cancer Alliances, North and South, working together with NHS organisations, local authorities, voluntary and community sector partners, to transform cancer services across the region.
The Cancer Alliances bring together clinicians, commissioners, patients and members of the local community, to deliver better outcomes for patients through early diagnosis and more integrated and personalised care for all those affected by cancer.
They also have a key role in supporting pioneering work on latest treatments and prevention of the disease through healthy lives.
The East of England Cancer Alliances have an active Patient Participation Group which ensures that the views and experiences of local people affected by cancer are at the heart of their work.
There are 21 Cancer Alliances in England, working to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan commitments for people affected by cancer.
The ambitions will be delivered in a way that:
- improves quality of life outcomes;
- improves patient experience outcomes;
- reduces variation; and
- reduces inequalities
For more information about Cancer Alliances, see NHS England » Cancer Alliances – improving care locally