To some extent the tragic legacy of Covid-19 will be quantifiable. History will judge how bad a pandemic was based on the number of deaths, hospitalizations, cases, and those suffering from long-term Covid.
So far, more than 100,000 people have died of Covid in the UK, a clear indication of the effects it has caused. However, the sad fact is that there will be an even greater legacy that will be much harder to quantify – indirect deaths and illnesses caused by Covid.
I am thinking specifically of cancer here, although of course there will be many stroke and heart disease patient deaths who may have their referral delayed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, at the end of the pandemic, medical professionals warned that there would be more deaths from cancer than from coronavirus.
At the height of the first wave, NHS England made it very clear that elective surgery would be suspended but urgent surgery and cancer treatment would continue, with the NHS largely sticking to it.
“When I yell for help, nobody on the other end listens.”
Peter Marsden struggles for survival in the balance.
He is waiting for diagnostic tests if pancreatic cancer is suspected – the tests have been repeatedly pushed back because of Covid.
He now has an appointment in February, but fears the damage has already been done.
He was only in the middle of the diagnostic tests before Covid struck.
His last tests have been postponed from July to January and now again. Medical professionals believe he has either pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.
The 73-year-old fell from 11 to seven within a few months.
He cannot walk, he cannot go to the bathroom without help, and he is in constant pain despite his high quality pain medication.
Another problem is that the doctors told him that given his current weight, he would not be able to perform the surgery even if he was diagnosed.
Nine months later, more than 36,000 people are hospitalized with Covid, many intensive care units are overwhelmed and NHS staff are being hired to help.
The impact is that Some hospital trusts had no choice but to cancel some urgent cancer operations.
They really, really don’t want that, they say, but without an ICU bed to rest on, or without an anesthetist or theater nurse for surgery, they just can’t operate on their patients.
This is a big problem, not just for the patients themselves, but also for the hospital staff and even for the head of the NHS.
Photo credit: PA
Earlier this week, NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens admitted he was concerned about the impact Covid was having on cancer surgery.
He said there was a lot of focus on making sure the surgeries continue, but he acknowledged the pressure is on anesthesiologists who are now in critical care.
What can be done when it is predicted that there could be an additional 18,000 deaths in cancer patients in the next 12 months?
I’ve been to a special cancer center at Royal Marsden in south west London.
It’s a so-called clean hub where cancer treatment and surgery can continue throughout the pandemic.
Nick Van As, medical director at Royal Marsden Hospital, says the situation is “unprecedented”.
The hospital is accepting patients from other areas of London to ensure that urgent operations can continue.
The local medical director described it as unprecedented and many trusts across the country have come together to offer the same service.
The only problem is that there aren’t enough.
According to initial forecasts, there were 800 fewer cancer operations than usual in the first two weeks of January.
There are potentially hundreds of patients sitting at home in need of surgery who are now at risk of getting sick and sick.
Glyn Lewis Says Medicines Are Playing With His Life:
Glyn Lewis is one of those patients. He has stage two prostate cancer, his surgery has been postponed and he has not been given an appointment for one in the future.
Glyn told us he felt the NHS was playing with his life and is now trying to raise funds so he can pay to do the procedure privately.
Oncologist Pat Price told us there are thousands of patients like Glyn.
“We have to save both cancer patients and Covid patients”
These are patients who have no idea whether their cancer is spreading, getting worse, or actually leading to death while waiting for surgery.
That is the tragedy of this situation.
Unlike the coronavirus, we may never know the true scale of cancer deaths caused by the effects of Covid.
Glyn may or may not be fine, but he will never be able to prove whether or not postponing his surgery has affected his condition.
Pat has met with NHS leaders to request that the situation be urgently considered. She wants more cancer centers to be set up and an urgent plan to go through the backlog of cases that have been growing rapidly.
She says we also need to save cancer patients, not just Covid patients. Who could possibly disagree?
An NHS spokesman told ITV News, “Although Covid has put tremendous pressure on the NHS, nearly 1.5 million people had cancer screenings and more than 200,000 started treatment during the pandemic. The latest full November data shows that cancer surgery was 94%. ” the level it was in 2019.
“The NHS message is clear: people should continue to report for a routine check-up or get checked-up if they have a symptom of concern.”