Badri Nath Wadawadigi
Associate Vice President, Head of Growth Initiatives, Accord Healthcare
Cancer patients have been among those most severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Many hospitals have had to be re-purposed to cope with the rise in COVID-19 patients, healthcare staff have been redeployed, surgical procedures postponed and screening programmes paused.
Patients may have also felt the need to avoid healthcare facilities because they fear it would put them at greater risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. During the acute stages of the pandemic, patients suffering from cancer, heart conditions and other chronic diseases found their care interrupted.
“The pandemic had a really huge impact on cancer care across Europe,” says Badri Wadawadigi, Accord Healthcare’s Head of Associate Vice President, Head of Growth Initiatives, Accord Healthcare. “It is well documented that many patients have had delayed diagnoses or treatment.”
Anxiety and stress
In the UK, in April 2020, urgent consultant diagnosis referrals fell by 60%, according to a Macmillan Cancer Support analysis of NHS performance data on cancer care.1 The charity estimates that it will take the NHS 18 months working at 110% capacity to catch up on missing cancer diagnoses and 15 months to clear the cancer treatment backlog.
It can sometimes feel like there isn’t enough time to spend with patients discussing day-to-day anxieties and symptoms, as focus is understandably on things like diagnostics and active treatments. During the last year, this imbalance became even more pronounced. A cancer diagnosis can be isolating for patients and even more so during a pandemic.
In the UK, in April 2020, urgent consultant diagnosis referrals fell by 60%, according to a Macmillan Cancer Support analysis of NHS performance data on cancer care.
“This has had a knock-on impact on people’s fears, anxiety, stress and worry about their cancer diagnosis and has been highlighted in the rise in calls to cancer support charities,” adds Mr Wadawadigi.
The worry and anxiety that cancer patients have has always been a problem, but limited access to hospitals and care during the pandemic has simply exacerbated these issues. We need to also appreciate the impact it has people’s mental health. If they can face their cancer with more confidence and less worry, they are more likely to have better outcomes. We felt there was a gap in the care of cancer patients, and our aim is to try toprovide daily support to patients to help them better look after their own health.”
Mr Wadawadigi says there is a need to develop measures for effective management of symptoms and to reduce the barriers for patients to seek medical advice. However, while access to care has been affected by COVID-19, the pandemic has seen greater acceptance in the medical community of new digital approaches to reach out to all patients, not just those with a cancer diagnosis.
GPs and hospital consultants have been conducting remote consultations, either by phone or video, and the healthcare sector has accelerated a new ways of interacting with patients.
One aspect of that is Unify Health, an app that has been devised by experts from the healthcare industry working with hospitals, community pharmacists, clinicians, nurses, patient groups and charities to make support and advice more readily available to cancer patients. The app provides cancer patients with a toolkit of tailored advice and information, plus a map to connect them with nearby qualified health care professionals – notably community pharmacists – so they can discuss any issues face-to-face or by phone.
Accord Healthcare has been a partner in the Unify Health project, working with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, a world-leading cancer centre and a teaching institution for oncologists and cancer nurses. A curriculum of additional training and practical resources has been developed for these pharmacists by the experts at the Royal Marsden, so that the community pharmacists can feel empowered and confident to provide their expertise to cancer patients.
Mr Wadawadigi says: “The idea is to provide a level of advice that is accessible on-demand from your phone but with the reassurance of easy access to a pharmacist from your own community and located nearby, in case you want to discuss your concerns.”
 The Forgotten C? The Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Care. Macmillan Cancer Support publication. Available here: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/assets/forgotten-c-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care.pdf