The NHS shut down more services during the first year of the pandemic than almost all other nations in Europe, suggest new figures.
Cancer-related surgery in the UK is down by more than a quarter (26%) in 2020 compared to 2019, according to data compiled by the OECD and the European Commission.
It was second highest drop among the 30 countries included in the Health at a Glance 2022 report, ranking behind only Romania, which saw a 30 percent drop.
By comparison, Denmark experienced hardly any interruptions in cancer surgery with a 0.6% drop in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The UK experienced the biggest drop in cancer-related hysterectomies, which fell by 36 percent compared to an average drop of 19 percent in the 21 EU countries included in the analysis.
Life-saving cancer surgery postponed
It comes after vital appointments for cancer and surgeries were postponed or canceled at the start of the pandemic as the NHS moved into an emergency situation.
Cancer charities have warned that there are tens of thousands of cancer cases “missing” as a result.
According to Macmillan, in England alone, between March and August 2020, around 30,000 fewer people started their first cancer treatment compared to 2019.
While NHS data shows that 38,000 fewer patients received a cancer diagnosis in England during 2020.
The report authors said the impact of the pandemic disruption on health care is “difficult to quantify precisely because it has affected the majority of the population and because many of these effects will last for many years.”
“For example, disruptions to cancer screening and early detection programs will result in increased numbers of cancer cases being diagnosed at a later stage and with lower chances of survival,” they said.
‘Missing volumes’ of trades
Data from the Office for the Improvement and Health Disparities (OHID) shows that since September there have been almost 900 more deaths in people with cancer than would be expected at this time of year.
In EU countries, 2 million fewer non-urgent procedures, such as cataract and hip and knee surgery, were performed in 2020 compared to 2019.
The authors conclude: “These ‘missing volumes’ of operations have increased waiting times for patients requiring surgery, increasing patient dissatisfaction.
“Many EU countries have provided additional funding to address these delays, but the main constraint to increasing procedure volumes has been a shortage of healthcare workers.
“Incentives were provided for staff to work longer hours, but these clearly had limits and risked burnout and resignation.”
‘Big disruption’ in diagnostic scans
The OECD report reveals that the UK more than halved the number of hip and knee surgeries in the first year of the pandemic, the highest rate for any country in the comparison.
Surgery decreased 56 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, followed by Romania and Hungary, where it fell 33 percent.
Germany saw an 8 percent drop compared to 2019, while hip and knee operations in Switzerland were relatively flat with just a 1 percent decline.
The UK was one of four countries in the report that had a “big disruption” in diagnostic scans and MRIs.
Compared to 2019, the number made fell 15% in the UK, 41% in Greece, 17% in Lithuania, 12% in Italy and 11% in Spain.
In Germany, scans, which are vital for diagnosing conditions like brain tumors, only decreased by 0.3 percent.
Currently, more than 460,000 patients are waiting longer than the six-week target for a key diagnostic test in England.