Friday, 4 Dec 2020

Cancer surgeon warns ‘patients delaying operation over fears of catching COVID’

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Debashis Ghosh, who is clinical lead for breast surgery at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation, said he was seeing new cases that are more severe because patients “held back because of fear”. He said: “Please come in. Covid will go away but cancer won’t.” Mr Ghosh’s team usually sees 250 to 350 new cancer patients each week, but during the first lockdown this fell to 90.

Despite cancer services continuing, he feels the public were too scared of catching coronavirus if they went to a GP or hospital, meaning fewer patients were referred.

Nationally, new cases in July were 21 per cent down on the same month a year earlier. But September saw a year-on-year rise of two per cent. 

Now, Mr Ghosh’s department is battling increased waiting times and mounting backlogs, as treatments take longer under Covid restrictions.

Mr Ghosh, who appears in the BBC’s award-winning Hospital series, said: “When Covid hit we decided cancer services should not stop, we kept treating patients and diagnosing cancers. So patients could come in but because of the fear they didn’t. The numbers suddenly dropped. 

“We were trying to get our message across that we were open for business but there was a lot of confusion at that time. We are now seeing large numbers of now more advanced patients who held back because of fear.”

They include Smita Patel, 53, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just after the first lockdown. 

After undergoing a lumpectomy in September, the mother-of-two is to be treated with radiotherapy.

She said: “I always thought someone else could get cancer, not me. I wasn’t nervous about Covid but it took me three weeks to pluck up the courage to go to the doctor as I was worried about taking up a space someone else might need.

“I really recommend to anyone, if they feel something is wrong, please go to the hospital. They do have good provisions in place.”

• Watch Hospital, tomorrow, 9pm, BBC Two.

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