The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer care and treatment across the globe has been significant. In the UK, all areas of cancer care have been affected from diagnostics to surgery and treatment. The Cancer Research UK Patient Experience Survey 2020 reported that 33% of cancer patients had their treatment impacted in at least one way.

Telstra Health UK is currently carrying out data analysis of healthcare data to look at how cancer treatment and cancer mortality has been impacted by looking at different demographic factors. The analysis will investigate whether known inequalitiesin health and care that have already been exposed by the pandemic are also reaching into cancer care. Age, gender, ethnicity, and areas of social deprivation will all come under scrutiny to see where and how change may be needed to improve care and outcomes.

The Telstra Health UK study, in partnership with Cancer Research UK, will drill down into data for cancer surgery to help understand who was being treated throughout the pandemic and whether different groups in society have been disproportionately affected in terms of the care they received.

There are several reasons for the current backlog in cancer care and treatment. Cancer surgery had to be cancelled for much of the first lockdown as ICU beds made way for COVID-19 patients and many staff were redeployed. Diagnoses and referrals were also delayed as some people decided not to come forward, either to avoid being a burden to the NHS or to avoid catching the virus.

Data from Cancer Research UK shows that nearly 45,000 (12%) fewer patients started cancer treatment in the UK from April 2020 to March 2021 compared with pre-pandemic and 15,800 (7%) fewer people were referred by an urgent suspected cancer referral in England in August 2021 compared to expected numbers if the pandemic had not taken place.

Diagnostic waiting times too were hit particularly hard. In England alone there were 4.6 million fewer diagnostic tests that can be used to detect cancer in the first year of the pandemic, compared with the same months the previous year.

The NHS is working incredibly hard to reduce the number of people waiting, but it is crucial that everyone who needs treatment gets the same chance regardless of age, ethnicity or the area where they live.

Analysing data such as this is crucial to help give an overview of care across the country, highlighting areas where lives can be saved and outcomes improved if resources and care are focused on the right places. As talks continue about levelling up and closing the healthcare gap, expert analysis such as this is vital to provide the evidence needed to show where change is needed the most.