GPs report drop in older patients coming forward with cancer symptoms

More than half of GPs say numbers of older patients coming forward with cancer symptoms remain low compared with pre-coronavirus levels, a poll reveals.

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

More than one in three cancer cases diagnosed in the UK each year are in patients aged 75 or older - sparking concerns that the drop in older patients seeking advice from GPs could lead to delayed diagnosis and worse outcomes.

A total of 53% of GPs reported concerns that fewer older patients are coming forward with symptoms compared with prior to the pandemic, according to a poll of 1,000 UK GPs by Cancer Research UK.

GPs have also raised concerned about a drop in patients from other vulnerable groups, including those with learning difficulties, patients whose first language is not English, those from deprived backgrounds, ethnic minorities and patients with existing health conditions.

Older patients at risk

Across all age groups, 29% of GPs report a drop in patients coming forward with cancer symptoms - a figure that has more than halved since a similar poll in June - but concerns over older patients remain high.

Cancer Research UK GP advisor Dr Richard Roope said: 'I’m really concerned that fewer of my older patients are contacting the surgery and it’s worrying that colleagues across the UK are reporting this too.

'GP surgeries and hospitals are changing the way they do things to help keep patients and staff safe and people should be reassured that it’s safe to visit them. The first contact is likely to be by phone, and where appropriate a face-to-face will follow.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell added: 'People need to feel reassured that it’s safe to use the health services as we approach a second wave of the pandemic.

COVID-19 pandemic

'With a backlog of patients to get through, the NHS needs the support of government now more than ever, so that people can get the care they need. The upcoming spending review is the perfect opportunity for the government to act and provide the equipment and staff required.'

Medical director at the Medical Protection Society (MPS) Dr Rob Hendry said: 'GP’s are right to be concerned – a recent MPS survey found that four in 10 people who needed medical attention for a non COVID-19 illness during the first wave delayed seeking help.

'11% of those did not seek help at all. Many didn’t want to bother GPs already under pressure, some felt that issues unrelated to COVID-19 would not be considered a priority, and others simply thought they were adhering to the government's "stay at home" advice.'

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