IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON CANCER TREATMENT

Updated – Monday 27th April 2020

What should I do if I have a hospital appointment during this period?

  • There will be a disruption to the delivery of cancer services as hospitals look to managing the rising demand of COVID-19 patients
  • If you have a hospital or other medical appointment, talk to your GP or the clinic to confirm the appointment is still going ahead or if the appointment is being postponed, or if possible can be conducted over the phone. 
  • If you have been told to follow shielding measures, contact your GP or the clinic in the first instance. Do not attend the appointment without doing so first.

 

I am attending a hospital appointment, how can I protect myself?

  • Contact your hospital or clinic to confirm the appointment first
  • Do not attend any appointment if you have a temperature of more than 37.8 and/or a new continuous cough 
  • Do not arrive early for your appointment and consider waiting outside, such as in your car, prior to your appointment, in order to minimise the time spent within the hospital
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitiser, and avoid touching your face, mouth or eyes. 
  • Only bring essential visitors to accompany you, such as close relatives and carers
  • Talk to your specialist to ensure you continue to receive the care you need and determine which future appointments are absolutely essential

 

What will happen to my cancer treatment?

  • Essential and urgent cancer diagnosis, treatment and care will continue. NHS staff are working hard to make sure cancer treatments can continue in the safest and best possible way. To do this during the pandemic, there may need to be some changes to how treatments are delivered. 
  • 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.
  • Your clinical team is best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatments and appointments. They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each situation. 
  • In some cases, it may be safer to delay cancer treatment or to give it in a different way, to reduce the risk from coronavirus. Any decisions about surgery and other treatments will be based on how urgent it is and the level of risk. Your safety is a priority in making any decisions. 
  • The NHS has issued advice to clinicians nationally to help inform conversations with patients about your treatment and care, including any changes. Advice has also been released to help clinicians to manage risks and prioritise treatment on the basis of clinical need.
  • If you have any concerns regarding your treatment please speak with your clinical team.

 

What changes are being made to the way services are delivered to keep patients and staff safe?

  • Most hospitals have started to use more telephone consultations as a way of helping people to avoid long waits in clinics and for treatment. You may be called to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to support the running of a smooth service.
  • It may be possible for some patients to have their chemotherapy at home or have fewer radiotherapy treatments, to reduce hospital visits while continuing their treatment.
  • For some, it may be safer to delay surgery and a different treatment may be recommended in the meantime, such as hormonal therapy. 
  • Some patients’ treatment may move to a different hospital as the NHS set up ‘cancer hubs’ to coordinate treatment to ensure it can continue safely.
    • In London, a ‘cancer hub’ led by The Royal Marsden in collaboration with University College Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation, is co-ordinating cancer services across the capital.
    • Similar models are being set up in other parts of the country. The hubs will support hospitals to maximise capacity and ensure people receive the treatment they need.
    • It is important to note that you will remain under the care of your treating hospital and clinical specialist team and you should continue to contact them with any questions you have about your treatment and care

 

If I need to shield/self-isolate for more than seven days, what will happen in relation to treatment that has to be done weekly?

  • If you think you may have coronavirus, it is vital that you follow the guidance and self-isolate for 7 days, or 14 days if you live with someone who has symptoms of the virus.
  • Your clinical team is best placed to discuss with you the effect on your treatment and appointments. They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each individual situation.

 

Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

  • There are currently no medicine shortages and the country is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure patients can access the medicines they need and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages. 
  • There is no need to change the way you order prescriptions. If people stockpile medications it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines or medical products they need.
  • The NHS has tried-and-tested ways of making sure patients receive their medicines, even under difficult circumstances.

 

If I am on chemotherapy and I experience sweats/ cough/ shivering should I call NHS 111 or the chemotherapy care line?

  • You should call the chemotherapy care line  as they will be better equipped to manage patients who are unwell whilst receiving cancer treatment. If the chemotherapy care line is not available in your area, please speak to your clinical team in advance about who you should be calling in this situation should the need arise. 
  • If you have not been provided with a care line and are unwell, please contact your GP, or 111. Contact 999 in case of life-threatening emergencies. 

 

Will my clinical trial continue?

  • The NIHR has issued guidance on clinical trials, recognising the need to prioritise research on COVID-19 itself, and that many clinical research teams will be asked to redeploy to help with providing patient care.
  • This means that many research studies funded by NIHR or supported by NIHR (via the Clinical Research Network) may need to be paused.
  • The NIHR Clinical Research Network is pausing the set up of any new or ongoing studies at NHS and social care sites that are not nationally prioritised COVID-19 studies. 
  • However, people already having cancer treatment as part of clinical trials may be able to continue their treatment if it is safe to do so. But, hospitals are trying to reduce the number of times patients attend for tests and so the arrangements for people on trials may be changed to maximise safety. Where trials can continue, they are, but with reduced patient contact, for example by delivering medication directly to patients and following up by telephone or video rather than face to face appointments. 
  • You should contact your clinical team with any questions about your individual treatment. 

 

Will cancer patients be a priority for the vaccine if/when it is developed?

  • There is currently no vaccine for this form of coronavirus. Research is being done to develop a vaccine, but this will take many months. 

 

Resources

 

This article was accurate as of the 27th April 2020.