Cancer patients will die because of diagnosis delays during pandemic, warns hospital chief

PUBLISHED: 18:09 04 June 2020 | UPDATED: 18:09 04 June 2020

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, has said people will die because they didn't come to hospital for a cancer diagnosis. Picture: GREGG BROWN/SARAH LUCY BROWN

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, has said people will die because they didn't come to hospital for a cancer diagnosis. Picture: GREGG BROWN/SARAH LUCY BROWN


Cancer patients who were too scared to get symptoms checked out by their doctor during the peak of the coronavirus will die because of the delay in diagnosis, it has been warned.

There has been a 80% drop in the number of people coming to Ipswich and Colchester hospitals for cancer referrals and the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust boss has warned there will be consequences. Picture: GETTYThere has been a 80% drop in the number of people coming to Ipswich and Colchester hospitals for cancer referrals and the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust boss has warned there will be consequences. Picture: GETTY

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, is now urging anyone who has been referred for treatment or for a life-saving operation to attend appointments.

He fears the Covid-19 death toll could double when you factor in deaths caused by lockdown and the recession that will ensue.

Speaking at a council of governors meeting today, Mr Hulme said: “We have seen an 80% reduction in referrals for cancer diagnosis (during lockdown) some of those people will die because they will not get their diagnosis early enough.

“When we look back in several years time we will see that because of the recession and people not accessing healthcare when they needed it, that the number of deaths – sadly as a result of Covid-19 – of people without the infection will probably be higher.”

Mr Hulme added: “The message ‘protect the NHS’ may have been misunderstood by swathes of the general public who think that by staying away from the NHS and their GP they are protecting them.

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“They may be but clinically the risk of not having urgent care or coming forward when you may have something wrong with you is much greater than the risk of acquiring Covid-19 in a healthcare setting.”

The chief executive has asked his council of governors to use their positions as leaders within the community to do everything they can to remove the fear that people have of coming to hospital and said: “We can do something about that and we can change the perception.”

He explained that the trust is now actively encouraging patients to return and said: “Yesterday we contacted several hundred people and are slowly bringing them back to urgent operations.

“These are people who have life saving operations required and 40 of those patients said they didn’t want to come in for that urgent operation because they were too frightened to come into the hospital.”

Mr Hulme wanted to make it clear that despite some fear from the general public that hospitals have been ‘overrun’ during the Covid-19 crisis, ESNEFT hospitals have never been in a position where they haven’t been able to provide care.

Though the hospitals have changed management styles and accommodated additional demand in specific areas to deal with infections, they are “running as usual” in many areas.

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Through his business, he aims to build a conservation-based economy connecting visitors with Suffolk’s stunning countryside both digitally and physically through safaris and lectures. “I spend most of my time on safari in farmland habitat on the Shotley and Deben peninsulas,” he says. “This guiding season for Spirit of Suffolk started early March and I had several safari bookings as well as two photography workshops planned throughout March and April.” Philip was just one safari into the season – with one urban fox tour under his belt – with the business really taking off when lockdown measures were introduced on March 23, which meant he had to ditch his planned events. Lockdown hit him hard on a personal level too, he admits. “I always thought I would be able to head out to the countryside still, alone, and with caution. But as lockdown measures were introduced I realised this was not to be the case. “On a personal level this was deeply troubling as time spent in nature forms who I am as a person in both actions and spirit. “From a business perspective initially it felt shattering as I could not operate any of the core elements of the business, and to have started the season so spectacularly well with an amazing first safari and superb urban fox tour I really felt bad for the guests that had trips booked and were now not able to take them. “As a wildlife photographer but living in central Ipswich I also felt limited in what I could do photography-wise.” But he picked himself up and started working on his website and social media strategies. 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As lockdown eased in early August he was able to resume his safaris, initially on a two-week trial basis. The pilot proved very successful and as a result he was able to begin booking events again. “Although we are nearing the quieter season I continue to take people out who are keen on enjoying the beauty of Suffolk and its wonderful wildlife and I am personally excited for the beauty and joys of autumn,” he says. “People often purchase the safaris as a gift for someone else and this continues to be popular, as a birthday present or Christmas present that can be redeemed at any point in the future.” From October, he is also planning to resume his one-day photography workshops. “I have always loved showing people the wonders of nature, whether that be a grizzly, a barn owl, killer whales or an urban fox. I think the lockdown period offered a different appreciation for the things around us and I am ever so excited to be with people again and to be showing them all the wonderful wildlife of my favourite spots in Suffolk.” He has had to adapt the tours to ensure safety, but the changes are subtle and don’t detract from the main goal - which is seeing nature, he says. “I now encourage the guest to bring along their own drink and snacks and to also bring their own pair of binoculars. We do wear face coverings while in the vehicle and with the windows open to ensure ventilation. Such changes have been well received by the safari guests and we continue to have some great wildlife viewing.” He’ll be “forever grateful” to his customers and guests for their support and understanding during the pandemic. “Recovery all depends on the current status of local restrictions and the virus itself. I am hoping that a vaccine can be in place as soon as possible. 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