NHS Nightingale hospitals to be turned into cancer testing centres

30 June 2020, 18:10

The NHS Nightingale coronavirus field hospitals are being converted into cancer testing centres to tackle the growing backlog in screenings
The NHS Nightingale coronavirus field hospitals are being converted into cancer testing centres to tackle the growing backlog in screenings. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The NHS Nightingale coronavirus field hospitals are being converted into cancer testing centres to tackle the growing backlog in screenings.

Conversion is already underway at the newly-built Nightingale in Exeter, Devon, and others across the UK will follow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Cancer Research UK has estimated that 2.4 million cancer patients have missed out on vital screening and treatment this year because of the crisis.

Charities have also warned there could be an additional 18,000 cancer deaths in the next year because of late diagnoses.

Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said Exeter’s Nightingale will start testing multiple people with cancer symptoms from Monday, and will be open seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.

He vowed a “radical” transformation in diagnostic methods to address the backlog and said some private sector hospitals could become coronavirus-free cancer clinics.

The one in Harrogate has also been earmarked to become a cancer testing centre
The one in Harrogate has also been earmarked to become a cancer testing centre. Picture: PA

“It's worth remembering that four fifths of the patients who are on a waiting list are typically waiting for a test or an outpatient appointment, rather than waiting to be admitted to hospital for an operation,” he told the Commons Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday.

“And given the pressures on hospitals and diagnostic teams are over the March, April, May period, there has been a big reduction in the flow of patients through those diagnostic services.

“We've got to do something different. We've got to expand diagnostic capacity. We've also got to do it in new ways.”

Mr Hancock hinted that the other six Nightingales - built with the military to support the NHS with critically ill Covid-19 sufferers - in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol and Harrogate would also be converted into cancer testing hubs.

“We will be converting Nightingale hospitals into cancer testing centres, starting with @NightingaleExt on Monday,” he tweeted.

“Our NHS is open so if you have any symptoms or concerns, please come forward.”

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But Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director at NHS England, suggested that some of the Nightingales, which have been placed on standby and largely remained empty, could be back in use should Britain see a second spike of infections.

NHS statistics suggest that thousands of cancers may have been missed due to plummeting referrals amid the coronavirus crisis, despite health chiefs’ pleas for those with symptoms to come forward.

Just 79,573 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in April 2020 — 60 per cent down from 199,217 in April 2019.

Cancer charity MacMillan says roughly 210,000 people should have been referred in April this year, suggesting around 130,000 people were missed.

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