Thank you for getting in touch with me on the issue of continuing cancer treatment safely during the Coronavirus pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic, it may be that doctors consider the risks of certain treatments, particularly those that weaken the immune system, to be of much greater risk than normal. Healthcare teams involved in a person’s treatment will take into consideration how urgent their treatment is: in some cases, delaying treatment might not be expected to affect its effectiveness in eliminating the cancer. I understand that patients with cancer visit hospitals regularly and appreciate that for those who are particularly vulnerable this is riskier than usual during the pandemic.
On 27 April, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced the restoration of NHS services, starting with the most urgent, like cancer care, elective surgery and mental health support. Anyone who needs urgent care and treatment should continue to access it as and when they need it, especially when delays could impose both an immediate and a long-term risk to health. During this announcement, the Secretary of State outlined that, as COVID-19 related hospitalisations begin to fall, the NHS will begin to resume these delayed services. This will be done with local circumstances in mind, as some hospitals have fewer recorded cases of Coronavirus than others.
Any changes to treatment protocol to ensure patients are treated safely will be carried out in full consultation with patients, to ensure that they fully understand the reasoning behind any changes made in line with guidance from clinical experts.
I support the brilliant work that Cancer Research UK and other charities do in our collective, national fight against cancer. I am pleased that in the UK we have a good record on cancer treatment, research and prognoses, and that health outcomes for many types of cancer have improved year on year since 2010.
In the letter you refer to in your correspondence, the charity cites that, “many ‘COVID-protected’ cancer hubs being set up”, and that, “all medical staff are to be tested”, but they are concerned that this is inadequate and cancer patients are at risk from asymptomatic healthcare workers.
I would like to assure you that the safe resuming of cancer treatment is being taken very seriously by the Government, and that NHS workers and their families continue to be tested. Further, the Government has significantly increased the scale of testing to include everyone in the UK with symptoms, and the launch of the Test and Trace testing system will allow for localised responses to outbreaks and protect communities, reducing the risk of transmission to healthcare settings.