Father fears he will not see son grow up as cancer treatment paused amid coronavirus concerns

A father with stage four skin cancer has revealed his fears of treatments for the disease being paused amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Shelton, from Birmingham had been receiving treatment for the disease after being given just a handful of months to live.

Despite doctor's expectations, he has survived almost five years - but he believes that longevity is now in jeopardy.

The 64-year-old's cancer care has been paused due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he now fears he may not see his seven-year-old son grow up.

It comes amid warnings more than 2,200 new cancer cases could be going undetected each week as the Covid-19 crisis continues, dramatically impacting patients’ chances of survival, according to Cancer Research UK.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Shelton said: "This immunotherapy I am on is critical for my longevity and my quality of life.

"My little boy is seven, I want to see him grow up.

"I wasn't expecting to get this far.

"But I am totally dependant on that drug to... see him go to school, to see him achieve.

"To be off treatment for 12 weeks, as a minimum, it's more the fact that my oncologist said he can't say whether there will be a viable oncology unit at the QE hospital."

Mr Shelton said he was worried he might not be able to get the treatment he needs, even after the coronavirus pandemic.

He said "something has got to be done" about the NHS being focused on serving coronavirus patients.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the health service is still open to people with all illnesses, not just Covid-19, and urged those who needed it to seek medical attention.

How significant could the impact be?

Cancer Research UK found the number of urgent referrals by GP have dropped to about 25% of usual levels.

This is down to fewer people going to see their GP and also due to practitioners’ reluctance to send patients to hospital due to the risk of Covid-19 infection, the charity said.

It said screening services have been formally paused in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and are “de facto” paused in England as no appointments are being made at screening hubs.

Previously, these services were screening around 200,000 people each week for diseases such as bowel, breast cancer and cervical cancer across the UK, picking up an average of 2,250 cases.

Delays in patient referrals could lead to future problems for UK cancer treatment. Credit: PA

Cancer Research UK estimates the situation could jeopardise the recovery of thousands of people, as early-stage cancers are significantly easier to treat and that the numbers of new cases are stacking up each week.

In analysis on its website, it said doctors are concerned early-stage cancers are being “parked” for three months or more. Treatment for existing conditions has also been paused amid the crisis.

After this point, the chances of curative surgery to remove all of the cancerous tissue – reducing the need for chemo or radiotherapy – become less likely.

Cancer Research UK is now calling on the NHS to develop a plan to dramatically ramp up screening services to deal with the backlog of cases once it is safe to do so.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people to seek medical attention if they need it. Credit: PA

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock said the NHS had “not at any point been overwhelmed by coronavirus”.

“Today I want to reinforce the message that non-Covid NHS services are open for patients – the NHS is there for you if I need advice and treatment,” he said.

“I want to address very clearly this message to those who might be vulnerable to heart attacks or stroke, to parents of young children, to pregnant women and to people with concerns that they may have cancer.

“I want to emphasise that people with non-coronavirus symptoms must still contact their GP.”

He continued: “If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital.

“The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it.”

The chief clinician at Cancer Research UK said the risk of not going to see a doctor could be greater than that of coronavirus. Credit: PA

Professor Charles Swanton, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, told Radio 4’s Today Programme the government needs to urgently deliver on its promise to create “Covid-free” hubs in private hospitals.

“In some parts of the country that is definitely happening, patients are having Covid-19 screening 48 hours prior to surgical admission,” he said.

“What is not happening routinely right now – although there are promising signs – is the routine screening of all staff, not just symptomatic but asymptomatic staff, in an effort to create truly coronavirus-free cancer hubs.

“The truth is, in medicine, total certainty is very difficult but we can minimise risk, and minimising risk requires testing, testing, testing.”

Prof Swanton said the risk of not going to a doctor is much greater than seeking medical help and potentially catching coronavirus.

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