West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper is pushing the NHS and the Government hard to address urgent issues relating to the reduction of treatment and clinical testing of cancer patients due to Covid-19 related NHS pressures.
During Friday’s Health and Social Care Select Committee meeting, MP Rosie questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock about ensuring that all urgent cancer treatment was being carried out.
Despite reassuring words from Mr Hancock, Rosie has since been inundated with emails from across the country evidencing the clear inconsistency between what the Health Secretary believes is happening, and the reality of cancer treatment across the UK.
The emails received document harrowing ordeals of patients told by their clinicians that urgent treatment was necessary, only to be still waiting for an appointment for an operation or scan, even just an update weeks or months later.
West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper commented:
“People have had operations cancelled, scans and radiotherapy postponed due to reallocation of resources, staff and theatres. Cancer patients have been left dealing with the unknown, scared that their life is threatened.
“One man reports that he asked for his operation to be delayed a couple of weeks as his daughter was coming from Australia, to be told ‘no, they wouldn’t be comfortable with that,’ yet nearly two months later he hasn’t heard a thing!”
Research by cancer charities has also suggested that despite the Government assuring people they are ‘open for business’, urgent cancer referrals have fallen dramatically. Experts in the field are now urging the Government to identify the cause of this reduction as they are worried that once the lockdown is lifted, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of cancer referrals and people who could have been treated now being considered terminal.
Unconvinced by the Government’s empty assurances, MP Rosie further questioned the Health Secretary at Wednesday’s Urgent Statement. Mr Hancock continued to avoid questions about very real life-threatening situations. He sought only to clarify, quite rightly, that in some situations cancelling of chemotherapy has been deemed necessary to protect patients, but he didn’t even attempt to address the issues of cancelled operations, radiotherapy and the fact that patients aren’t getting explanations for the delays. They are being told their case is urgent and will be listed as soon as possible and this goes on and on and on for weeks.
Rosie Cooper MP has vowed to continue to push for the Health Secretary to actually address this issue in detail, saying:
“It is terrifying that I am having to fight this hard for the Health Secretary to even acknowledge the lack of clarity that patients and NHS staff are experiencing. How can they have hope when the people at the top are oblivious to the problems they are facing daily?
“Cancer patients are desperate and want their promised treatment plan completed without further delay. Widespread testing of staff and patients would also give more confidence that treatments are carried out in a safer Covid-19 free environment.
“We cannot keep kicking the can down the road and hoping this problem goes away.
“The Government need to immediately address this and provide clear guidance to all Trusts and clinicians about the need for urgent cancer treatment to proceed.”
The Secretary of State also ducked Rosie’s question about providing death in service benefits for all healthcare workers who have died of Covid-19.
Last week, Rosie asked about whether the deaths of clinical staff who have died working in the NHS are being referred to the Health and Safety Executive for investigation.
Responding, the Secretary of State said that investigations are being done by the NHS and the employers of the staff and will involve the Health Service Safety Investigations Body.
Rosie Cooper MP commented further:
“We owe it to all NHS staff who die that their family is taken care of and proper investigations are carried out.
“I feel it is absolutely necessary for any investigation into these deaths to be carried out by a wholly independent body.
“It is essential that these investigations are transparent and conducted independently of any organisation involved in the handling of this crisis as we cannot effectively have the employer investigating itself.
“I have written to the Chief Executive of the Health & Safety Executive to explain that I believe it is imperative that the Health & Safety Executive investigates each and every one of these deaths, to ensure that the circumstances and any opportunity for learning are made public.”
Statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Wednesday 22 April 2020
In the statement today, and before the Health and Social Care Committee last week, the Secretary of State has implored cancer patients to come forward and assured them of treatment, yet since that Committee meeting I have been inundated with messages from all over the country from desperate patients whose treatment has been stopped, interrupted or not even started because of covid-19. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that there is no gap between his welcome words and what is actually happening? Can he guarantee that treatment will go ahead and give patients confidence that we have covid-free hospitals through the frequent and widespread testing of staff? Finally, will he ensure that death in service benefits will be paid for all healthcare workers who have died of covid-19, both now and retrospectively?
I would like to be absolutely clear—as I was at the Health and Social Care Committee meeting, which was a very good discussion—on the point about cancer treatment. There is some cancer treatment that it is clinically inadvisable to undertake during an epidemic like this, because if somebody’s immune system is taken down to very low levels, that puts them at significant risk, so I cannot give the guarantee that all cancer treatment would go ahead. Even though we now have capacity in the NHS and confidence that that capacity will not be over-capped by the virus, the virus is still at large in the community, so there are some cancer treatments, especially in relation to immunotherapy, that it is clinically inadvisable to undertake now.
Having said all that, yes, we do want people to come forward, and we want as much cancer treatment as possible to go ahead, where it is safe to do so considering the impact of the virus. That is why I want people to come forward if they have a risk, and we will treat them as best as we possibly can within the constraints of the fact that we have a very serious virus stalking the land.