Lockdown has taken a huge toll on Britain’s wider health, doctors warn, with two-thirds saying non-virus patients have been badly hit.
Those suffering from cancer, heart conditions, strokes, diabetes and lung disease are among the worst affected by delays to their diagnosis and care, a survey of senior doctors reveals.
It also shows the majority of doctors are still facing delays when trying to refer patients for cancer or cardiology tests – five months after the pandemic took hold.
The findings came as the latest official figures yesterday showed coronavirus deaths have fallen to their lowest levels since before lockdown, accounting for just 2.4 per cent of all fatalities in England and Wales.
The findings of the survey, which involved 1,029 senior doctors and consultants, shed light on the true extent of the harm suffered by non-virus patients during the lockdown (file photo)
More than a third of doctors say their hospitals have started only a ‘very small number’ of the procedures commonly used to diagnose tumours, heart disease, strokes, dementia and intestinal illnesses.
The findings of the survey, which involved 1,029 senior doctors and consultants, shed light on the true extent of the harm suffered by non-virus patients during the lockdown.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said its 38,000 members were ‘gravely concerned’ their patients’ health was deteriorating while they waited for care, making treatment far more difficult.
Ministers have pledged to return the NHS to normality to ensure non-virus patients are cared for, but many medics believe it will take months to clear lengthy waiting lists.
Only yesterday figures showed that nearly 20,000 patients across London alone have been waiting at least a year for operations and other treatment.
Professor Andrew Goddard (pictured), president of the Royal College of Physicians, said its 38,000 members were ‘gravely concerned’ their patients’ health was deteriorating while they waited for care, making treatment far more difficult
Leaked NHS statistics show 19,775 had been waiting more than 52 weeks by July 19, compared with 1,154 across all of England 18 months ago.
The influential Royal College’s survey, which took place over 24 hours at the end of last month, found 60 per cent of doctors were concerned patients under their care had come to harm following diagnosis or treatment delays.
When asked which areas had suffered most, they listed cardiology, cancer, diabetes, care of the elderly, lung disease and illnesses of the digestive system as the most common.
Some 94 per cent said they were worried about the indirect effects of the pandemic on patients, including delays to treatment and the public being reluctant to go to GPs or hospital.
Separate research by Leeds University backed this up, showing deaths from the most common type of heart attack rose by nearly 39 per cent in the first month of lockdown.
The influential Royal College’s survey, which took place over 24 hours at the end of last month, found 60 per cent of doctors were concerned patients under their care had come to harm following diagnosis or treatment delays (file photo)
Study author Dr Jianhua Wu said the findings suggested ‘a lot of very ill people were not seeking emergency treatment’.
And deaths from flu and pneumonia are now outstripping those from Covid.
Nearly half of doctors surveyed by the Royal College said the NHS would take more than two years to hit its waiting time target for routine operations such as hip and knee replacements, hernia surgery and cataracts.
The Health Service is meant to ensure that 92 per cent of patients have these procedures within 18 weeks of being referred by a doctor but the current rate is just 71 per cent.
A further 68 per cent of doctors said they were experiencing delays accessing outpatients’ tests and procedures to diagnose cancer and heart disease.
Professor Goddard, a consultant in gastroenterology at the Royal Derby Hospital, added: ‘Doctors are understandably gravely concerned that their patients’ health will have deteriorated to the point where they will need much more extensive treatment than previously, at a time when NHS resources are already incredibly depleted.
‘The impact on Covid is going to take years to get sorted and it is a big, big worry.’
The survey also showed many hospitals are stuck in a post-virus limbo as they struggle to resume normal services amid strict infection controls.
These precautions mean only a limited number of scans can take place each day as machines and rooms are thoroughly cleaned between patients.
Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘It’s of great concern to see how difficult it’s been to return cancer services to pre-pandemic levels. It’s clear from these figures that Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact.’
Alex Baylis, of the King’s Fund think-tank, said: ‘Services are slowly reopening, but it will take significant time for them to build up to previous levels.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘Alongside responding rapidly to coronavirus and ensuring over 100,000 patients could receive hospital care, NHS staff also provided more than five million urgent tests, checks and treatments during the peak of the virus, and local teams have already made significant progress in bringing back those services in a way that is safe for patients and staff.’
Source: Daily Mail