Message from Professor Sean Duffy

Clinical Lead, West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance

This message relates to the ongoing care and treatment of people affected by cancer across West Yorkshire and Harrogate in the context of coronavirus. It seeks to address some of the general questions and concerns which cancer patients, their carers and families may have at the moment.

Firstly, the wider partnership of health and care organisations are involved in four broad tasks across the system – increasing critical care capacity in hospitals to meet the demands of COVID 19; caring for people discharged from general and acute care hospital beds at short notice; building co-ordinated support for the people who are being shielded at home for 12 weeks, and delivering business continuity and safe services in the face of reduced staffing from sickness, self isolation and shielding.

Against this backdrop, please be assured that cancer teams across our area are continuing to work hard in extremely challenging circumstances, working tirelessly in the context of emerging national clinical and managerial guidance, to diagnose, treat and care safely for cancer/suspected cancer patients.

Essential and urgent cancer treatments will continue. We are informed by the NHS England national cancer programme that 2,500 patients in England started their treatment last week (week ending 29th March 2020). It is a fact, however, that cancer treatments, especially operations and chemotherapy, are riskier now than before. Cancer and its treatment can weaken the immune system, making a person more vulnerable to the virus.

Clinicians will work with and support individual patients to weigh up the benefits of starting or continuing cancer treatment against the increased risks of contracting coronavirus. Nationally the NHS has issued advice to clinicians to help inform these conversations with patients. The advice is also there to help clinicians to manage risks and prioritise treatment on the basis of clinical need. To help minimise the risks to cancer patients, changes are being made to the way services are being delivered to keep patients and staff safe, and in some cases it may be safer to delay cancer treatment or provide it in a different way.

More appointments are being done through telephone or video calls. Some patients may have their chemotherapy at home or have fewer radiotherapy appointments, to reduce visits to hospitals while continuing with their treatment plans.

There are around 200,000 cancer patients who are particularly vulnerable across the country and they are being advised to stay at home for 12 weeks to minimise the risk of infection. They can still attend hospital for essential treatments, but cancer teams are finding ways to reduce the need for them to leave their homes, wherever possible.

Some patients may also start to see their treatment move to a different hospital as the NHS sets up cancer hubs in some areas to coordinate treatment and provide dedicated sites for cancer. Cancer teams will discuss the impact of those changes with individual patients, as and when the need arises. This is about the NHS and partners coming together to pool resources across local areas so that cancer treatment can continue.

Our six hospital Trusts in West Yorkshire and Harrogate are continuing to prioritise cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care at the same time as ramping up their ability to treat patients with respiratory conditions. Decisions about individual cases will continue to be taken by expert clinicians who will be carrying out as much cancer treatment as possible, while needing to balance this against the risk posed to individuals by coronavirus.

You will be aware that we are all working in a rapidly changing environment. Just a reminder that information specific to different types of cancer is available on many of the national cancer charity websites – you can find a list of them here.

You are advised at all times to act in line with Government guidance which can be accessed here

Remember: Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.

Thank you.

Sean