With Coronavirus at the forefront of many people’s minds, GPs in Greater Manchester are increasingly concerned that those with potential cancers are delaying contacting their GP due to worries about the pandemic.
With treatment often more effective when cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it is important that those with concerning symptoms are identified as soon as possible.
Despite this, the number of people contacting their GP about concerning symptoms has dropped steeply across all parts of Greater Manchester in recent weeks, with some districts reporting a decrease of up to 75%. This is in line with figures from across the country.
Measures are in place across the region in both GP surgeries and hospitals to allow these important services to continue. GPs and hospital doctors are now holding many of their appointments via telephone to negate the need for the public to visit in person. Other safety measures in place include strict social distancing at healthcare sites and the use of personal protective equipment by staff.
Mayor of Greater and Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, Sir Richard Leese, have both voiced their concerns about this and want to encourage the public to contact their GP if they have symptoms they are concerned about.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said:
“The Covid crisis has impacted on all our lives but it should not stop people from contacting their GP. It’s vital that we continue to look after our health and seek medical advice as soon as possible. If someone finds a lump or a mole or are concerned about symptoms they have, they should contact their GP straight away. GP surgeries are open and patients should feel reassured that processes are in place to keep them safe through telephone appointments to making sure premises adhere to guidelines on social distancing, PPE and cleaning. I want the public to help us by helping themselves and not suffer in silence with potentially long-term consequences.”
Sir Richard Leese added:
“I want to reassure the public that the NHS is still very much up and running and if anyone has any concerns, they must contact their GP in the first instance or call 111 or use 111 online chat. I’m very concerned about the huge drop in the numbers of people contacting their GPs especially when we know that cancer treatment is most effective when diagnosed early. I urge the public not to be afraid of using health services or feel that staff might not have time to speak to them. Staff are there and want to help.”
Dr Sarah Taylor, a GP at Bodey Medical Centre in Fallowfield and the Primary Care Lead for Greater Manchester Cancer, said:
“With the public’s minds on coronavirus, it’s still just as important that those with other concerning symptoms reach out to their GP for advice. We’ve seen a worrying drop in the numbers of people contacting us with potential cancer symptoms, but we still want to hear from you.
“You may be worried about attending appointments given the current pandemic, but we are here for you and the NHS is still very much open for business. We can offer lots of our appointments via telephone and help you to decide what to do if something is amiss. If you have symptoms that are worrying you, it is important that you don’t put it off and get in touch with your practice.”
The public should take particular notice of persistent and unexplained symptoms such as:
- Lumps, bumps or swelling
- Blood in your pee, blood in your poo or coughing up blood
- Unexplained pain
- A change in your bowel habit
- Extreme tiredness
- Weight loss
- A cough lasting over 3 weeks, especially if you have ever smoked*
This call to action is also echoed by healthcare professionals working in hospitals, where patients may be referred if they need further investigation. The NHS continues to provide urgent and essential cancer treatment, with measures in place to manage patient safety in addition to its resources to continue to deliver a cancer service.
Dr Neil Bayman, a clinical consultant in lung cancer at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust said:
“It’s absolutely crucial we identify cancers as early as possible. Whilst people may feel nervous about being seen by a hospital specialist at the moment, hospitals like The Christie have lots of measures in place to keep our patients safe – for example, we’re now able to hold lots of our appointments via telephone, or video call, and there are strict safety measures on site for those that do come to see us.
“The NHS is committed to providing urgent and essential cancer treatment during the coronavirus outbreak and we want to ensure the public get in touch with us if they have symptoms that are worrying them.”
In response to the pressures on resources and staff made by the current pandemic, earlier this month NHS England called for all areas of the country to develop ‘Cancer Hubs’, to ensure that the urgent and essential treatment of cancer patients continue through a shared management model of resources. Greater Manchester was one of the first areas in the UK to establish its hub to protect cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic, with patients from across the region being treated in hospitals across the city.
Dr David Levy, North West Regional Medical Director for NHS England-Improvement said:
“I’m worried that around a third of people in the North West would delay seeking advice if they have worrying symptoms, that need checking out, because they are scared of getting coronavirus or feel they are a burden to the NHS.
“The NHS and our services are very much still open. If you have any worrying symptoms such as sudden weight loss, a new mole or lump or blood in your urine or poo, then please make sure you seek medical advice as soon as possible from your GP. You can get advice from them online or over the phone. If you need to go for tests they will let you know, and you must make sure you attend your appointment.
“GP practices and hospitals have introduced new processes to separate COVID-19 cases from other patients and there are strict Infection Protection and Control measures in place. Clinical teams have been working hard to introduce safe pathways for treatment away from COVID-19 patients.
“For many those symptoms will be something other than cancer and a quicker diagnosis can mean one less worry. If cancer is diagnosed the sooner you can be diagnosed and can start treatment the better the outcome for you.”