Doctors in the U.K. may miss 5,000 cancer diagnoses per month because general practitioners are being told to focus on making sure people have received COVID vaccinations over routine exams that typically catch the cancers, The Telegraph reported.
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday that general practitioners will be told to ''only focus on urgent needs and vaccinations'' over the next two to three weeks and hospitals will be told to cancel planned operations.
When Javid was asked whether the changes would affect cancer patients, he said they would be ''completely unaffected,'' The Telegraph reported.
Despite that assurance, The Telegraph noted that according to National Health Service data, 5,000 cancers per month are diagnosed only after being referred from a GP when cancer was not suspected.
Cancer patients in the U.K. already face record wait times and have been told to keep trying to get appointments.
''People affected by cancer can't afford any more delays,'' Shaun Walsh, of Cancer Research UK, told the newspaper. ''NHS leaders must protect cancer services and ensure that everyone gets the diagnosis and treatment they need for the best chance of survival, because cancer won't wait.''
''While it's vital everybody receives their COVID-19 booster, using GP capacity to help with this, at a time when access to appointments was already under huge pressure, may have unintended consequences for cancer diagnoses,'' Minesh Patel, of Macmillan Cancer Support, told The Telegraph.
Almost 50,000 people in the U.K. have missed cancer diagnoses since the beginning of the pandemic, he said. ''It is crucial that people continue to contact their GP if they have any symptoms that could be cancer and that all concerns about cancer are treated as urgently required appointments.''
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