Looking at the national health position helps with appreciating the effect of Covid-19, along with considering alternatives.
Research in 2020 by UCL showed adverse changes to cancer services as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, not least an increase in deaths from cancer. This includes serious forms of skin cancer, such as melanoma.
This study looked at 4 million patients in England, along with US data, yielding similar findings in each case. A 20% increase in cancer mortality during the pandemic, which would be accompanied by increased treatment levels for other patients.
The Institute for Public Policy Research carried out related research in 2021 and arrived at similar conclusions. They estimate 19,500 missed cancer diagnoses in the UK up to March 2021, leading to the same unwanted outcomes.
At the core of this is a well understood maxim, early diagnosis is the key to successful and often less intrusive cancer treatment.
A Mixed Cause
The reasons timely diagnosis and treatment have decreased are multiple. In the NHS in particular, reduced cancer treatment has been an inevitable outcome of the disruption and a need to reallocate resources.
With a 5% increase in the number of cancer treatments, clearing the backlog would take 10 years. A 15% increase would reduce this to a year but is unlikely, the general view is of a time period somewhere in between.
There is also the key issue of reduced early diagnosis, to an extent resource related but also due to demand. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of GP referrals to see a cancer specialist dropped by 370,000 year on year, a fall of 15%.
Local medical resource changes may have had an impact but a greater factor is personal decision. Even when a visit seems a good idea, people are choosing to avoid medical centres, which are perceived as high risk.
Reality On The Ground
There is no doubt that particulary in overwhelmed hospitals, people have caught Covid through being admitted. This is however far rarer in specialist clinics, especially those with the right level of care.
The precautions at our clinic were and remain extensive, from appointment management, to screening, hand sanitation, distancing and infection control. Amongst other procedural changes, we offer initial video appointments if you prefer.
We have remained open throughout the pandemic, because of the points raised in this post. People need access to sound diagnosis and treatment for skin conditions, to preserve their health, occasionally their life.
Accessing facilities at a well run clinic honestly is a safe decision and a wise one if you see a skin problem. The chance of catching Covid is remote, whereas almost any skin condition benefits from prompt care, not least skin cancer.
We do understand the thinking and are not blaming anyone but do not wish to see years of progress in cancer care and survival rates undone. If you see a possible problem, please talk to us, the best way not to be a casualty of the pandemic.