60% of cancer patients miss treatment during first month of the pandemic

New data from Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study shows the impact of the coronavirus on NHS treatment for people with long-term health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The new figures come from Understanding Society, a longitudinal study based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex. The data comes from interviews between 24 and 30 April with 17,450 Study participants. Of them, 3,414 respondents aged 16 and over from across the UK report one or more long-term health conditions and were asked about access to NHS services.

The data shows that during April 2020, 63% of people with long-term health conditions, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, who needed NHS treatment did not receive it because the NHS stopped their treatment. 10% of patients cancelled appointments themselves.

Out-patient hospital appointments for long-term health conditions were also affected, with 42% of respondents having appointments cancelled during April and an additional 7% of appointments being cancelled by patients themselves. Just 6% of people with long-term health conditions were provided with an alternative treatment.

The highest level of continued treatment was for those with cancer, but only 40% received treatment in this period. 56% of cancer patients had their treatment cancelled or postponed by the NHS and 4% postponed treatment themselves. For other health conditions, the NHS cancelled treatment for over two-thirds of people who were expecting it in this period; around 5% of people cancelled treatment themselves across the different health conditions.

64% of people suffering from long-term respiratory conditions had their planned treatment cancelled and people with diabetes were also hard hit, with the cancellation of 70% of treatments.

In contrast to NHS hospital appointments, community-based care was more available to people managing their long-term health:

  • 98% of those who needed prescription medications were still able to obtain them
  • 73% who needed treatment via a GP still received the services they required
  • 65% were able to see a pharmacist

Professor Michaela Benzeval, who led the development of the health questions in the survey, said, “Our data are able to show how many people are experiencing delayed treatments in the UK because of the pandemic. There has been a focus on cancer treatment being delayed, but our data shows that people with all types of long-term health condition have been affected by a reduction in NHS treatments.
“Because our data is longitudinal we will continue to follow people over time and assess subsequent impacts on their lives. We hope this long-term perspective will allow researchers to better understand the impact of the coronavirus situation on the UK population”

Read the full briefing note on Caring and Health


Notes to editors

  1. People in the survey with a long term condition were also asked about their health service use in the 12 months leading up to the start of the pandemic and in the last four weeks. They were also asked if they had NHS treatment planned or in progress.

2.Percentage of respondents who had their treatment cancelled:

  • Cancer: 53% cancelled by the NHS, 7% cancelled by the respondent, 6% offered alternative treatment
  • Diabetes: 70% cancelled by the NHS, 11% cancelled by the respondent, 3% offered alternative treatment
  • High blood pressure: 65% cancelled by the NHS, 8% cancelled by the respondent, 4% offered alternative treatment
  • Respiratory conditions: 64% cancelled by the NHS, 12% cancelled by the respondent, 5% offered alternative treatment
  • Cardiovascular conditions: 60 % cancelled by the NHS, 12% cancelled by the respondent, 4% offered alternative treatment
  1. Professor Michaela Benzeval is Director of Understanding Society. Dr Cara Booker is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. Professor Meena Kumari is Understanding Society Topic Champion for Biomarkers and Genetics. They are part of the Study’s Scientific Leadership Group and led the design of the health section of the new Covid-19 survey.

  2. The Understanding Society Covid-19 study is a monthly survey on the experiences and reactions of the UK population to the Covid-19 pandemic, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Health Foundation. The first wave was carried out online between 24 and 30 April. All Understanding Society adult sample members aged 16+ were invited to participate, and 17,452 completed the survey in the first wave. There were over 3,414 respondents who identified as having at least one long-term health condition whose data fed into the figures in this press release. ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

  3. The questionnaire covers household composition, coronavirus illness, long-term health conditions, caring, loneliness, employment, finance, financial security, time use, home schooling, food, alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise, and mental health. Researchers have been invited to submit questions for future waves of the survey. The Covid-19 survey data is available to researchers via the UK Data Service.

  4. Understanding Society is the UK Household Longitudinal Study. It follows tens of thousands of households across the UK through yearly interviews that focus on social, economic, and health topics. The Study is based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. www.understandingsociety.ac.uk


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