NHS cancer teams are working harder than ever in our region. Across Cheshire and Merseyside an extra 2,600 patients per month are getting to see a cancer specialist in hospital following an urgent referral from their GP compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. More patients than ever are being seen within a fortnight for their first hospital appointment, however because of high demand some patients are waiting longer than usual for clinic appointments and diagnostic tests.
The number of patients seeking advice from their GP about symptoms that could indicate cancer has gone up, leading to urgent hospital referrals increasing by more than a fifth. In turn, this has meant that the number of patients being treated each month for a newly diagnosed cancer has increased by 12% since the beginning of the pandemic, and provisional data suggest that more patients than ever are being diagnosed with early stage cancers, which are more treatable and have better survival rates. This is very positive news, but it does mean that, due to high demand, fewer patients are currently being treated within the NHS’s target times.
There are a number of initiatives being supported across the region, to manage demand and reduce waiting times.
At the Broadgreen hospital site (Liverpool University Hospital), a nasal endoscope service has been established as an alternative to the usual gastroscopy procedures that involve a scope being passed down the patient’s throat to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract for cancer and other diseases. The benefits of the nasal endoscopy procedure include less discomfort for patient and faster recovery time. Free parking and transport are also available if needed. As it’s a non-acute site the service is protected from potential disruptions if there are Covid surges.
The service is being offered to 4,000 clinically suitable patients who have waited longest in Cheshire and Merseyside. There has been a 35% reduction in the number of patients waiting for a gastroscopy between December 2021 and June 2022.
Another initiative has seen 50,000 patients undergo a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) as an alternative to being listed automatically for an endoscopic procedure. 67% of patients undergoing the FIT procedure needed no further secondary care treatment as a result of the test, which means that endoscopy capacity is saved for those who have a greater clinical need.
Thanks to another pilot study at Countess of Chester and St Helens and Knowsley hospitals it is hoped that a less invasive way of testing for oesophageal cancer could soon be rolled out across Cheshire and Merseyside. A small sponge is swallowed rather than passing an endoscope down the patient’s throat.
The pilot target is 1,000 patients with 500 patients receiving the procedure to date. The benefits so far have been less discomfort for patients, faster recovery time and improved diagnosis. Clinical trial data so far shows ten times more reflux patients diagnosed with Barratt’s Oesophagus, a condition that can lead to cancer.