Health officials across County Durham are urging people to contact their GP if they have a symptom they are worried about as urgent GP hospital referrals for suspected cancer fall by 44% during the Coronavirus pandemic
The plea is being made amid fears that people with cancer symptoms are not coming forward as they worry about seeking help during the lockdown.
Dr Stewart Findlay, Chief Officer, NHS County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group, said, ‘Contracting Coronavirus or passing it to loved ones are reasons people are not coming forward when they have cancer symptoms. If you notice something out of the ordinary you must tell your doctor. The chances are it is nothing serious but finding it early makes it more treatable.
‘We are doing everything we can to protect patients, with routine GP appointments taking place remotely by telephone or video call, minimising face-to-face appointments. When someone does need to be seen, there will have been a shared decision about the consequent balance of risk between the patient and a member of the GP team. We are using carefully controlled access into the GP surgery, with staggered appointment times to avoid waiting in communal areas and using personal protective equipment (PPE) to stop the spread of any possible infection.’
A major public information campaign has been launched to encourage people to contact their GP or 111 if they have urgent care needs and to go to hospital if they are told they should. Lives are saved if cancer is detected as early as possible, if referrals by GPs to cancer specialists for further investigation are down this suggests people are not coming forward for help.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust cancer lead Sue Green,said, ‘At the Trust we would usually receive about 489 referrals over a six week period from GPs for further investigation if cancer is suspected, that is down to about 215 which is a dramatic reduction. We really welcome the NHS campaign encouraging people to contact their GP if they have any symptoms of cancer, unexplained changes to your body such as the appearance of a lump, blood in your urine, changes to your usual bowel habits, changes to moles, unexplained weight loss, are all symptoms that you should see your GP about. More information about symptoms can be found at www.nhs.uk/cancer .
‘We want to reassure people that we have worked really hard to minimise the risk to patients of contracting Coronavirus and that every precaution is being taken to keep patients safe with very clear Covid-19 and non Covid-19 areas in hospital and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to stop the spread of infection.’
To support this, the NHS has announced the set up of a dedicated ‘cancer hub’ in the region to coordinate cancer treatment and ensure it can continue safely during the pandemic. The ‘cancer hub’ will support hospitals across the NHS and the independent sector to work together to make sure people receive the care that they need. The ‘cancer hub’ will be managed from two locations, one in the south, managed collaboratively by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and one in Newcastle, responsible for coordinating cancer treatment at a safe, COVID-free location.
The key message from the NHS is, if you need medical help you should still contact your GP practice, use NHS 111 online or call 111 and if you are told to go to hospital it is important that you go. If you are concerned about your health, please don’t put it off, we’ll give you the care you need.