Leading cancer doctor warns patient backlog is building

Scotland's largest cancer centre operating close to normal, but is planning for surge in demand.

Leading cancer doctor warns patient backlog is building

A leading doctor says Scotland’s largest cancer centre is operating “close to 100 per cent” despite coronavirus lockdown — but warns that a backlog of cases is building.

Clinical oncologist Dr David Dodds is based at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, which serves 60 per cent of Scotland’s population.

Despite growing concerns about a drop in patients attending GPs, a reduction in cancer surgery and a temporary freeze of routine screening, the Glasgow unit is operating close to normal.

Patients at the Beatson typically receive treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy — which have not suffered the same levels of disruption.

Dr Dodds told STV News they had “planned for a worst case scenario, which hasn’t worked out yet” and their non-surgical oncology service “is close to 100 per cent capacity just now”.

He added: “As far as radiotherapy is concerned, our overall numbers are actually remarkably stable.

“As far as systemic treatments — chemotherapy and so on — we did see a fair dip at the beginning of April although that actually did coincide with the Easter holiday period when numbers often go down a bit anyway.

“Those numbers have started to pick up again and right now they’re almost at the levels we were at before the lockdown period.”

Across Scotland, screenings for breast, cervical and bowel cancer have been on hold since lockdown began on March 23 while many cancer operations have been cancelled.

Last months saw a 72 per cent drop in urgent suspected cancer referrals by GPs across Scotland. It has since began to rise but Macmillan Cancer Support charity warned “there could be thousands of cancer diagnoses missed”.

Yesterday, STV News reported that charities and opposition politicians were urging the Scottish Government and NHS to resume normal services as soon as possible, almost eight weeks into lockdown.

Dr Dodds and the Beatson team are planning for an anticipated spike in cases as the coronavirus pandemic passes its peak.

He said: “There will be a backlog for sure but again that is really outwith the control of this particular department.

“What we will have to do is to manage a potential increase in numbers when they start to come through probably in a month or two for now. We’re planning for that right now.”

Beatson medics have increased use of phone and video consultations with patients to reduce the numbers needing to attend.

On Tuesday, Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital said it was maintaining 80 to 90 per cent of non-surgical treatments such as chemotherapy.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the majority of cancer treatments have continued throughout the pandemic.

Officials are working with the country’s 14 NHS board on a “phased approach” to restart services including screening and surgery.

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