Some cancer patients have been asked to “make their own mind up” as to whether or not to continue with cancer treatment during the coronavirus outbreak, it has emerged.
In some cases it may be deemed that treatments and surgeries are too risky to perform in the current medical climate.
But leading cancer charity, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) said decisions about care should always be a joint one between doctors and their patients.
The charity has received calls to its helpline from concerned patients who have been told that their treatment is on offer but it is up to them whether or not they undergo further care.
Meanwhile, other patients have raised concerns that blanket decisions have been made on whether or not they will receive treatments and surgeries.
NHS officials in England have told hospitals that essential and urgent cancer treatments must continue.
It has advised specialists to discuss with their patients whether it is riskier for them to undergo or to delay treatment at this time.
At present, around a third of calls to the helpline are about coronavirus and cancer.
Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at CRUK, told the PA news agency: “We have had a couple of calls from people where patients have said that the doctors have asked them to make their own mind up about whether or not to continue with treatment, which is obviously very difficult to do.
“The treatment has been on offer but these people have said ‘look there is a lot of risk associated with it so it’s actually up to you’.
“The decision should always be a joint one about whether to have treatment. The difficulty here is there is this whole new variable chucked into the mix which is making it very hard.”
He added: “We have heard anecdotally that some people feel like the decisions have been made to cancel operations or to not continue a treatment and it has been a blanket decision – they’re not necessarily hearing from their doctors that this is something that has been done on an individual basis, it’s just a case that the hospital is overwhelmed so we can’t do this at the moment.
“Obviously we can’t validate those stories but anecdotally we are hearing a mixed picture of people being offered reasonable decision, and perhaps in some instances decisions are being made about treatment in a more blanket way.”
Macmillan Cancer Support said that it is an “anxious” time for people with cancer.
Director of policy Steven McIntosh said: “Over a quarter (28%) of all calls to our support line last week were from cancer patients concerned about coronavirus.
“Even in a time of crisis, decisions must be made with cancer patients, according to their individual needs for critical care and treatment, as well as their vulnerability to coronavirus.”
As part of the NHS action plan to tackle coronavirus, health officials have secured the use of almost all private hospitals across the country. Officials have said that they should be used for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
NHS bosses have also said that given that the “Covid situation” is likely to last for some time, local hospitals should continue to provide care through “ring-fenced facilities” rather than deferring care.
For instance, in London cancer services across the capital are now being co-ordinated by a specialist ‘Cancer Hub’ led by The Royal Marsden and University College London Hospitals.
Patients will remain under the care of their doctor or nurse specialist at the trust where they are currently being cared for, however they may move to another site for surgery.