Tens of thousands with cancer symptoms not picked up during covid, says hospital trust

ITV Central correspondent Mark Gough speaks with cancer nurse Jo Harvey about the cancer backlog

A new pilot hotline for people who think they are experiencing cancer symptoms has been launched at Sandwell hospital.

Tens of thousands of people who had early stage cancer didn't have it picked up in the last two years because covid restrictions meant they couldn't get to see their GP.

Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust alone is thought more than 16,000 people affected, with hospitals not seeing patients until the advanced stages.

Now the Trust has set up a telephone hotline, so people who think they have symptoms can ring and talk to a cancer nurse straight away.

Its hoped it can encourage more people with symptoms to call in so symptoms can be picked up sooner.

Jo Harvey, a Lead Nurse at the Trust who is managing the hotline says she expects a surge of calls.

Jo has been a cancer nurse for 22 years and is urging people to call in.

She said: "I saw, unfortunately, the stage 3 & 4's in clinics. This saddened me, so we've got younger people presenting with more advanced disease."

She added "Covid saw an 80% drop in two week wait referrals, which are patients which potentially have cancer - they got many red flag symptoms that they should be on a two week wait pathway and they dropped by 80%".

She's urging people to "Ring."

"Nationally people are scared but deep down they know something is wrong with them, they know their bodies best, so if they want to give a call, we can either reassure if their symptoms aren't, or put them on the right pathway and investigate if their symptoms are a cancer"

In this trust they'd expect to see about 20,000 people a year referred to them for diagnosis within two weeks of seeing their GP.

But during covid, that number dropped by 80%.

It means about 16,000 people with cancer symptoms who ordinarily would have been picked up weren't.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said:

“We are working at pace to improve outcomes for cancer patients across England, including by opening over 80 community diagnostics centres which have delivered over two million additional scans, tests and checks.”

If successful, its hoped the pilot hotline can soon be rolled out to other hospitals across the Midlands.