Cancer scans drop by a quarter at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust

The number of scans used to diagnose cancer dropped by a quarter as the coronavirus pandemic hit hospital services at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 12:38 pm

A pause on non-urgent treatment, a shortage of radiographers and a reduction in people coming forward for tests are said to have affected scans across England.

Teams at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust performed more than 20,000 fewer imaging scans between March last year and February in comparison to the same period in 2019-20, NHS figures show.

Imaging tests that can be used to diagnose or detect cancer were carried out 66,885 times during that time - a 24% drop.

Cancer scans have fallen

The number of brain MRI scans fell by 6% while there were 25% fewer chest x-rays performed and a drop of 37% in ultrasounds of the pelvis and abdomen.

Across England the number of scans used to diagnose or discount cancer dropped by a quarter to around 8.5m as lockdown measures gripped the health service.

Postponements of non-urgent healthcare throughout spring last year contributed to the steep decline in diagnostic imaging activity levels.

But a reduction in people coming forward for tests has also had an impact, according to an NHS spokesman, while the Royal College of Radiologists say the crisis was exacerbated by a shortage of radiographers that predates the pandemic.

Dr Timothy Taylor, Medical Director at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As with all areas of the country, some scans and procedures had to be postponed due to the pandemic and our priority now is getting services fully back up and running and ensuring patients who are waiting are seen as quickly as possible. Whilst many urgent operations have continued, some people have had to wait longer for some procedures. But at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, we quickly restored the majority of our diagnostic procedures including CT, MRI and ultrasound diagnostic scans.”

Dr William Ramsden from the RCR said waiting lists for hospital treatments were at a record high, with many patients on those lists likely to require scans.

Calling for investment in radiologist training, he added: “The pause in non-elective NHS work during the coronavirus peak last spring had a huge knock-on impact on waits for scans and treatment.

“NHS England has helped increase radiology capacity, coming through with emergency funding for scanners and private provider support, which must continue."

Dr Ramsden said the RCR supported NHS plans to speed up scan access via diagnostic hubs but said thousands more radiologists were needed in order to ensure the changes could be implemented successfully and patients treated, scanned and diagnosed in a timely manner.

An NHS spokesperson praised the tireless efforts of NHS staff and said diagnostic imaging services had continued despite the impact of the pandemic, with 90% of urgent referrals with suspected cancer seen within two weeks in February.

She added: “We know that fewer people have come forward for checks during the pandemic but we continue to urge anyone experiencing worrying symptoms that could be cancer to contact their GP as soon as possible so the NHS can investigate them as soon as possible.”