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COVID-19: Worst year on record for cancer diagnosis in the UK

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Patients are said to have been worried about going to the doctor because of the pandemic
Patients are said to have been worried about going to the doctor because of the pandemic   -   Copyright  Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
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The UK has reported its worst year on record for cancer diagnosis, officials have said after the latest statistics were revealed.

In December 2020, there were 200,940 urgent cancer referrals made by doctors in England, compared with 187,811 the year prior - something believed to be caused in part by coronavirus.

"We had the initial first wave of the pandemic and at that point a lot of the routine work was actually paused while we tried to cope with the first wave of COVID, " said Dr Julian Elford, a clinical radiologist.

"We can't get patients through the pathway as quickly as we'd like. There are lots of different reasons for that, but it is frustrating and that is leading to some delays in diagnosis and treatment."

According to Elford, that backlog is also due to patients' fears of catching COVID-19 in the hospital setting. Plus, fewer clinicians are able to refer patients as they are helping to fight COVID-19 themselves.

Meanwhile, England's National Health Service has said 350,000 patients in England had been waiting for more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in December 2020.

They added a total of 345,664 patients were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.

In December 2019, the equivalent figure was 41,906.

"There's a long backlog, a large backlog of cases waiting for CT and MRI scans as the first part of their diagnostic pathway, at the moment there are more than 72,000 patients waiting longer than six weeks for a CT or MRI scan," Elford said.

"We need two things, we need more capacity in terms of scanners, but we need more staff as well."

The radiologist also said the UK had always been behind the rest of Europe in terms of scanners, radiologists and radiographers per head of the population.

He welcomed Health Secretary Matt Hancock's statement on reducing red tape in the NHS, saying: "Obviously, we have to see the detail, but in broad terms, reducing the bureaucracy that's there in the NHS will help to ease the burden as we go forward."