Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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Community pharmacists, along with other NHS staff and volunteers, have been dropping off chemotherapy to thousands of patients with cancer in England to ensure they can safely receive treatment at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a statement published by NHS England on 17 August 2020, up to 10,000 chemotherapy home deliveries were made over three months at the peak of the pandemic, avoiding the need for patients to venture out and risk infection when their immune system was low.
The deliveries were part of the “COVID-friendly” treatments introduced in response to the pandemic, which have helped to ensure that 85,000 people could start treatment between March 2020 and June 2020. Other measures included the roll-out of COVID-19-protected cancer hubs for treatment.
In Dudley, West Midlands, chemotherapy deliveries increased by 46% during the pandemic, with 440 treatment packages sent to patients’ homes. In Torbay, Devon, almost 900 packages were delivered.
Overall, NHS England said it was spending £160m on drugs that mean patients do not have to go to hospitals for regular checks and treatment. It added that the latest data showed that cancer referrals, which fell significantly during the pandemic, were “beginning to recover” to pre-pandemic levels.
“Thousands of cancer patients have had their treatment paused or delayed as a result of COVID-19 while local trusts worked out how best to continue delivering treatment safely,” said Martin Ledwick, head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK.
“The good news is that this has led to many innovations in the ways in which services have been redesigned, to keep cancer patients as safe as possible. There is still significant work to be done to make sure all cancer patients receive the treatment they need in a timely manner, but it’s heartening to see so many innovations being introduced, like the direct delivery of chemotherapy to people’s houses, to keep services running.”
Expert oncologists have previously warned against delaying cancer treatment because of the pandemic, saying not all cancer patients should be regarded as “COVID-19 vulnerable”.
Dame Cally Palmer, director of cancer for the NHS in England, said: “NHS staff have treated more than 108,000 patients requiring specialist hospital care for COVID-19, while also keeping other vital services such as cancer, maternity and A&E running throughout the pandemic.”
“The NHS has also fast tracked modern, more convenient services that help to keep patients and staff safe — from video consultations to chemotherapy delivered to patients’ doors — that have allowed 85,000 people to start cancer treatment during the pandemic.”