Thousands fail to start cancer care in England because of Covid-19 pressures

Study documents more than 4,000 excess deaths during focus on coronavirus care

A study found that more than 4,000 excess deaths for people without Covid-19 were caused by pressures on the system. Getty
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More than 4,000 people died from non-Covid-19 conditions because of extra pressure on the health system in England caused by the pandemic, according to researchers.

The study, by researchers at the University of Warwick, said reduced treatment for cancer was among knock-on effects from hospitals and staff coming under pressure to deal with thousands of pandemic cases.

The pandemic meant that more than 32,000 people did not get cancer treatment after a decision was made to start.

The delays continued throughout the cancer treatment cycle, with more than 53,000 having their care delayed past targets set by the National Health Service, it found.

Patients were also forced to wait longer in accident and emergency departments because of the pressure to treat Covid-19 cases.

The study said patients were seen within four hours in 80 per cent of visits to casualty before the pandemic, but that fell to 66 per cent in the most recent data up to November 2021.

The study, Pandemic Pressures and Public Health Care: Evidence from England, measured excess deaths over the period from March 2020 to February 2021.

It found that peaks of Covid-19 patients were exacerbated by staff absences because of close contact with the patients.

The study by the university’s CAGE research centre found that 4,003 people died who would not have been expected to if it were not for the pandemic.

Over the same period about 124,581 people died who had Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificates. It amounted to one excess death for people without Covid-19 for every 30 that had died having contracted the virus.

The report highlighted knock-on problems throughout the hospital health care system in England.

Before the pandemic virtually all diagnostics, 97 per cent, happened within six weeks, but it dropped to 56 per cent in the first wave and has only increased to 71 per cent since then.

“Given that the waiting list tends to be around one million entries long, these delays have affected millions of patients over the course of the pandemic,” the study found.

Updated: January 25, 2022, 3:25 PM