Doctors in Devon are concerned the coronavirus pandemic is stopping people with cancer symptoms coming forward for help.
New findings suggest four in 10 people are too concerned about being a burden on the NHS during the pandemic to seek help from their GP.
John Renninson, clinical director of the Peninsula Cancer Alliance and consultant at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said there has been a 75 per cent reduction in urgent suspected cancer referrals by doctors across the county.
GPs are reporting far fewer people than usual coming forward with the signs and symptoms of cancer.
Mr Renninson said: “The best chance of successful treatment for cancer is through early detection. GPs are able to assess over the phone and by video and if necessary, they can plan for you to safely be seen face-to-face.
“Hospitals are continuing to offer tests and treatment for cancer. Social distancing measures are in place to keep patients and staff safe when they do come in for their tests.”
“The type of assessment may change and it may take slightly longer than normal, but this is still better than delaying until after the pandemic.”
Nearly all of Devon’s GP practices offer consultations through an online platform now, which allows patients to access services from their smartphone, tablet or computer. All GP practices in Devon can now offer video consultations too.
If a GP determines a face-to-face appointment is needed, they will give their patients instructions about when and where to attend so they can be seen safely.
In order to limit exposure and to keep patients and staff safe, GP practices in Devon are setting up dedicated sites where patients who have, or may have, Covid-19 can be assessed and treated for the virus and other conditions away from other patients.
GPs are using protective equipment when they do see people face-to-face to minimise the risk of transmission.
Mr Renninson said: “If you have symptoms that are new, persistent, concerning or progressive, contact your GP online via their website or on the telephone for an initial assessment. Once you have contacted your GP, you can discuss safely attending hospital and when is the appropriate time.
“Delays in visiting a doctor with a lump or unusual bleeding could mean a worse outcome. Some cancers are particularly time-sensitive meaning that relatively short delays can have a big impact on long-term outcomes.
“With other cancers, a longer delay may affect the outcome very little. Patients can discuss with their GP the potential risks and together balance the risks of exposure versus the risks of delay.”