Published by BBC NEWS - 20th January 2022

Woman having a mammogram or breast cancer screening

Image source, Getty Images

The public are being urged not to put off seeking help for worrying cancer symptoms because of NHS pressures.

NHS England chiefs said record numbers were being seen for check-ups before Omicron hit – and despite the current situation cancer was being prioritised.

There have been nearly 50,000 fewer cancer diagnoses across the UK since the start of the pandemic, Macmillan Cancer Support say.

This risks an increase in late-stage diagnoses, reducing survival chances.

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Past surveys have suggested people are reluctant to come forward during surges in Covid cases because they did not want to be a burden to the health service.

NHS England said record numbers had had urgent cancer check-ups in November when 246,000 saw a consultant after a referral by a GP – although just over three quarters of these were seen in the target time of two weeks.

Figures for December and the start of this year are not yet available.

NHS England cancer director Dame Cally Palmer added it was vital people did not delay now even though hospitals were under huge strain.

“NHS staff are working hard to ensure that those who are coming forward for checks can be seen quickly so that cancer can be caught at an earlier stage.”

She said common symptoms to look out for included diarrhoea that lasts for three weeks or more, new lumps or bumps and unexplained weight loss or fatigue.

The plea comes as pressure on hospitals has started to ease a little.

The number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid has started to fall.

And latest figures show a drop in the number of NHS staff absences in England, with approximately 4% of hospital staff off due to Covid each day during the week ending 16 January.

That’s 35,555 staff off work each day on average, down by 22% on the previous week.

There has also been a slight improvement on ambulance handover delays – how long it takes to get patients into a hospital after arriving in an ambulance.

Some 18% of arrivals faced a delay of at least 30 minutes, in the seven days to 16 January.

That’s down from 23% the previous week, which was the highest level this winter.

Some 7% of arrivals last week took more than one hour to be handed to A&E teams, down from 10%.

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