27th May 2020

Environment Coronavirus: Call to set up ‘Covid-free’ cancer hubs quicker

Environment Coronavirus: Call to set up ‘Covid-free’ cancer hubs quicker

Environment

environment University Hospital of WalesImage copyright
John Lord/Geograph

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Some health boards in Wales say they have begun designating specific hospitals to ensure cancer treatment can resume safely

Wales is lagging behind England when it comes to setting up hubs free of Covid-19 to treat cancer patients, a charity has warned.

Cancer Research UK in Wales said the response to treating patients in a safe environment had been too slow.

It has been announced in England that thousands of cancer patients will be seen at new centres designed to be clear of coronavirus.

The Welsh Government said decisions on services should be decided locally.

The new centres in England have been set up in 21 areas for urgent surgery during the pandemic.

Northern Ireland and Scotland are also using some independent hospitals to continue certain procedures in a Covid-free environment.

Andy Glyde, Cancer Research UK in Wales’ public affairs manager, said patients were “worried and anxious”.

“Wales is lagging behind England when it comes to setting up Covid-19 free hubs to treat cancer patients in Wales,” he said.

“The response to treating cancer patients in Wales in a safe environment has been slower than I would like.”

Some health boards in Wales say they have begun designating specific hospitals to ensure cancer treatment and other urgent primary care can resume safely.

But according to Wales’ clinical cancer care director, Prof Tom Crosby, only about a quarter of urgent referrals are being dealt with.

Patients and staff needed to be sure services were safe and access was consistent and equal, he said.

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Spire Hospital has been designated as a centre free of Covid-19

Prof Crosby said: “We need to specifically designate hospitals to look at cancers and these probably need to be separate to those hospitals looking after patients with acute Covid illnesses.

“It may be that these are slightly different hospitals than we’re used to using and potentially provided on a regional basis.”

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it was finalising plans in a number of designated non-Covid-19 areas.

It said the private Spire Cardiff hospital, a wing at Llandough hospital, and a section of University Hospital Wales will be used.

Cwm Taf health board said The Vale private hospital, in Pontyclun, will be supporting it to continue providing urgent procedures.

All health boards have been contacted by BBC Wales about their plans.

Plaid Cymru’s health spokesman, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, said: “Just as the effort to re-design the NHS overnight for Covid-19 was a huge effort, there has to be a huge effort now in bringing back those primary and regular elements of NHS provision.”

Welsh Conservative health spokeswoman Angela Burns added: “Clearly, patients need the reassurance that services will be safe and the minister for health must consider a range of options to treat cancer patients in a safe and accessible environment.”

Environment ‘It’s just progressively getting worse now’

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Robert Wright, from Anglesey, is waiting for an operation to remove a tumour in his bladder

Cancer patient Robert Wright is waiting to have a cancerous tumour in his bladder removed.

The 74-year-old was meant to have an operation last month. That was postponed until August due to the pandemic.

He said he feels the tumour is growing, which is creating an increasing amount of discomfort.

Mr Wright, from Llanfachraith, Anglesey, is concerned the longer he’s left waiting, the greater the chance the cancer could spread.

“It’s just progressively getting worse now,” he said.

“Each time I sit down, you can feel the situation there and you can’t take it out of your mind.

“You can try and do things to keep your mind busy, but it’s still nagging away at the back of you.

“Realistically I don’t see an outcome as quickly as what they say.

“I think they’re giving people false hope.”

Richard Johnson, a consultant breast surgeon and director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Wales, said: “We must have Covid-free sites to treat patients requiring urgent and planned surgery. These should be planned strategically across Wales.

“While managing coronavirus has rightly been our focus, now we need to help those people who have had their surgery delayed.

Our new guidance provides a framework to help manage the backlog of elective operations and re-start surgery safely.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We’ve made it clear the NHS is continuing to provide urgent and emergency care and stressed the need for people to contact NHS services if they are concerned about their health or need medical assistance.

“We expect essential services, including cancer and mental health, to continue. Any decisions on re-introduction of services should be decided locally, based on urgency, and where it is safe and operationally possible to do so.”

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