Dr Charlie Davie describes the great work that DATA-CAN has produced over the last 12 months and it’s victory for cancer patients.
DATA-CAN, the UK’s health data research hub for cancer was delighted to receive the prestigious Royal College of Physicians’ Excellence in Patient Care Research Award in 2021. The award recognises our work with the UCL Institute of Health Informatics on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer services in the UK and across Europe
Our research was the first to highlight how the pandemic had led to significant delays in patient diagnosis and treatment in the UK, with seven out of 10 people with suspicious symptoms of cancer not being referred to specialist cancer services and four out of 10 cancer patients having their chemotherapy treatment delayed.
Over the course of the UK lockdown between March and May 2020, DATA-CAN and the UCL Institute of Health Informatics collected and analysed ‘real-time’ data from UK cancer centres, covering over 3.5 million people. This data provided a valuable insight into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients and cancer services.
Our research was the first to highlight how the pandemic had led to significant delays in patient diagnosis and treatment in the UK, with seven out of 10 people with suspicious symptoms of cancer not being referred to specialist cancer services and four out of 10 cancer patients having their chemotherapy treatment delayed. By the end of May 2020, these declines had only partially recovered.
Using these findings, we estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic could directly and indirectly cause thousands of additional deaths in cancer patients – between 7,165 and 17,910 excess deaths.
The research was originally published as a pre-print in April 2020. This was shared with the UK’s four chief medical officers, and the government’s SAGE committee, and contributed to the decision to restore cancer services.
The data were also presented to both European Cancer Organisation and World Health Organization Europe, resulting in DATA-CAN’s scientific lead, Professor Mark Lawler, leading a European Cancer Organisation Special Network on COVID-19 and cancer. Prof Lawler launched a 7-point plan on how to tackle the issues faced by cancer services and patients at the European Cancer Summit.
Overall, it is clear that there have been significant cancer diagnostic and treatment delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have long-lasting effects. While we have seen some positive recovery in urgent referrals and chemotherapy appointments, it may be that just getting back to pre-COVID-19 levels will not be enough.
We are really pleased that the RCP has recognised our research to enhance patient care and address the significant challenges that the pandemic has raised for cancer patients and services. Data research can help the NHS to understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and help us to respond to make sure that cancer patients receive timely care. As Jacqui Gath, cancer survivor and member of DATA-CAN’s Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Group, says, ‘This is not only a recognition of the great work that DATA-CAN has produced over the last 12 months – it is a victory for cancer patients, who are firmly embedded at the heart of everything that DATA-CAN does.’
Data for the research project was contributed by the Royal Free Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals, UCLH, and combined data from Northern Ireland, including five health and social care trusts (HSCs) that cover all health service provisions in Northern Ireland: Belfast HSC, Northern HSC, South Eastern HSC, Southern HSC and Western HSC.