People with concerns or suspected symptoms of cancer are being urged by England’s top cancer doctor to get medical help during the Coronavirus pandemic, as new research reveals that nearly half the public would worry about seeking advice during the current crisis.

NHS clinical director for cancer Professor Peter Johnson has warned that waiting to seek help could have serious consequences for patients and even put a greater burden on the NHS, stressing that measures are in place to ensure people can get cancer checks and treatment safely.

Prof Johnson’s call follows a poll carried out on behalf of the NHS showing that one in 10 people would not contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole which did not go away after a week. In addition, a third of those surveyed would worry about seeking help, with fears about contracting Coronavirus, giving it to their family or being a burden on the health service among their chief reasons for not coming forward.

Prof Johnson said: “My message is clear: people should seek help as they always would. NHS staff have made huge efforts to deal with Coronavirus but they are also working hard to ensure that patients can safely access essential services such as cancer checks and urgent surgery.

“From online consultations to the roll-out of cancer treatment hubs, we are doing all we can to make sure patients receive the life-saving care that they need. We know that finding cancer early gives us the best chance to cure it, and ignoring potential problems can have serious consequences now or in the future.”

Prof Johnson’s message follows a sharp drop in cancer referrals as patients are not contacting their GP for health advice. Early detection and intervention gives patients the best chance of survival and recovery, with more lives being saved the more people are referred for specialist checks.

The rise in virtual GP appointments and online consultations means that people don’t necessarily need to go to their local surgery for a check-up, while Covid19-free cancer hubs have been set up to provide surgery, along with private hospitals working in partnership with the NHS in an unprecedented deal.

Meanwhile, NHS England has set out plans for a ‘return to normal’, which includes stepping up non-Covid19 urgent services over the next six weeks. A letter to local trusts and GPs advises that urgent outpatient appointments should go ahead and routine surgery can be restarted, although the use of continued digital GP consultations is encouraged.

The recommendations include restarting routine elective surgery, protecting and delivering cancer surgery and treatment, bringing back cancer referrals and diagnostic appointments to pre-Covid19 levels and ensuring heart attack and stroke patients receive the care they need.

The letter also outlines a reduction in road traffic accidents and major trauma during the lockdown, with the possibility of a ‘rebound’ in emergency demand when restrictions are eased. As a result, Nightingale and private hospitals will still be required, in case there is another surge in demand for beds.

A major public information campaign was launched last month encouraging people to contact their GP or 111 if they have urgent care needs and to attend hospital if they are advised to do so. In the meantime, having the right health insurance can speed up access to tests, diagnosis and treatment as NHS waiting lists recover and return to pre-Coronavirus levels. 

Many of our partners have boosted the health insurance benefits available during Coronavirus to existing and new policyholders, including increased cash benefits if you have to stay in hospital and greater access to support such as online counselling. And, as with many illnesses, keeping active can help reduce the risk of Coronavirus, so find out more in our guide.

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