The NHS suspended more services than almost any other nation in Europe in the first year of the pandemic, new figures show.
Cancer-related surgeries in the UK fell by more than a quarter (26%) in 2020 compared to 2019, according to data from the OECD and the European Commission.
It was the second-highest drop among the 30 countries included in the Health at a Glance 2022 report, behind only Romania, which saw a 30 percent drop.
In comparison, Denmark hardly recorded any disruptions in cancer surgery, with a decrease of 0.6 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The UK saw the biggest drop in cancer-related hysterectomies, down 36 percent, compared with an average 19 percent drop across the 21 EU countries included in the analysis.
Vital cancer surgery postponed
It comes after key cancer appointments and surgeries were postponed or canceled early in the pandemic as the NHS moved to an emergency basis.
Cancer charities have warned there are tens of thousands of “missing” cancer cases as a result.
In England alone, around 30,000 fewer people started their first cancer treatment between March and August 2020 than in 2019, according to Macmillan.
While NHS data shows 38,000 fewer patients will be diagnosed with cancer in England in 2020.
The report’s authors said the impact of a pandemic public health disruption is “difficult to quantify accurately because it has affected most of the population and because some of those impacts will continue for many years to come.”
“For example, disruptions to cancer screening and early detection programs will result in more cancers being diagnosed at a later time and a reduced likelihood of survival,” they said.
Data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) shows that there have been almost 900 more deaths in people with cancer since September than would be expected at this time of year.
In EU countries, 2 million fewer non-urgent surgeries such as cataract and hip and knee surgeries were performed in 2020 compared to 2019.
The authors conclude: “This ‘missing volume’ of surgery has increased wait times for patients requiring surgery and increased patient dissatisfaction.
“Many EU countries have allocated additional funds to address these backlogs, but the main obstacle to expanding the volume of procedures has been the lack of health workers.
“Incentives were given for employees to work longer hours, but these clearly had limitations and risked leading to burnout and termination.”
The OECD report shows 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.
Operations fell 56 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, followed by Romania and Hungary, where they fell 33 percent.
Germany saw an 8 percent drop compared to 2019, while hip and knee surgeries in Switzerland remained relatively stable with a drop of just 1 percent.
The UK was one of just four countries in the report to have had “major disruptions” to diagnostic scans and MRIs.
Compared to 2019, the number of procedures performed fell by 15 percent in the UK, 41 percent in Greece, 17 percent in Lithuania, 12 percent in Italy and 11 percent in Spain.
In Germany, vital scans for diagnosing diseases such as brain tumors fell by just 0.3 percent.
More than 460,000 patients are currently waiting longer than the six-week target for a key diagnostic test in England.