Cancer waiting lists: Woman who waited nine months for surgery calls for more in-person appointments

Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Stuart Leithes.

A woman who had to wait nine months for cancer surgery at the height of the coronavirus pandemic says she thinks face-to-face appointments would have led to better treatment of her illness.

Charlene Cole, 38, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February last year but, after the first national lockdown was introduced the following month, she had to wait until November that year to get the surgery she needed.

Ms Cole, from Littleport in Cambridgeshire, said she believes her case would have been diagnosed more fully and escalated if doctors had been able to see her in person.

"I think if I'd been able to see somebody face-to-face, they would have been able to see the deterioration, they would have been able to see the pain," she said.

"Pain is quite hard to describe when you're in so much pain and how bad the pain is, whereas I think if you see somebody you can see the pain. I just lost so, so much weight."

Ms Cole is unsure what her prognosis is at the moment but had hoped her cancer was in remission.

She is now undergoing a new round of tests because of concerns that it might have returned. 

Ms Cole feels that if she was seen sooner, her chance of recovery would have been higher.

"It was all over the phone talking through symptoms, signs, whereas I think if I'd have seen somebody, they know what signs to look out for in a person with a cancer diagnosis," she said.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a total of 30,100 people have been waiting for more than 18 weeks for treatment with 6% of those (5,204) having to wait over a year to be seen.

It comes as national figures reveal that there are 106,014 patients waiting for treatment in Norfolk and Waveney, one of the worst affected areas in the country.

Out of that, 44,546 are having to wait more than 12 weeks to get treatment, with 12,768 - nearly one in eight people - having to wait a year for treatment.

The National Audit Office has warned the huge backlog of patients waiting for NHS care will continue to grow until 2025 and says it is due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Dr James Morrow said he is concerned about the impact the virus has had on the early detection of conditions like cancer. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Cambridge GP Dr James Morrow said: "We're always concerned about patients getting timely care getting the right care at the right time and the right place and the pandemic has created a really challenging situation for the health service right across the board from us and general practice through to very specialist services. We're providing operations for those with advanced cancer."Charlene's family are now aiming to raise £20,000 so she can focus on her health.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, urged people not to be put off by long waiting lists, and to seek help as early as possible.

He said: “With the highest number of 999 calls ever answered for a single month, the busiest October on record for major A&E and the rollout of boosters as part of the successful NHS vaccination programme, there is no doubt pressure on the health service remains incredibly high.

“But despite high demand, NHS staff are going above and beyond to see more patients and deliver millions more tests, checks, treatments and operations.

"Increasing numbers are coming forward for treatment and this is expected to go up, but it remains really important people do not delay seeking help from the NHS if they feel unwell."