The West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance has been working with hospital trusts to develop plans so that people who are referred for tests for suspected cancer, or whose condition could deteriorate if treatment was delayed, can be seen at a hospital where the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus is kept to the absolute minimum.
The centre at Pontefract will mainly provide a service for the 550,000 citizens of Wakefield district and North Kirklees.
To keep the risk of staff or patients being exposed to COVID-19 to an absolute minimum, all other inpatient other services will be moved off the hospital site temporarily and the hospital would be zoned to enable separate access to the cancer centre. In line with clinical guidance, all patients attending the cancer centre for appointments or surgery will be required to self-isolate and be swabbed before they attend. Entry points will be restricted and only patients who have been confirmed as COVID-19 free will be able to attend for cancer related diagnostic tests and surgery
Many services are already being provided remotely. Alternative arrangements are being put in place for face to face services that will need to be moved from Pontefract Hospital.
Different options are being explored, including nearby hospitals, local health centres and GP surgeries.
At the moment, many outpatient appointments are taking place by telephone or video consultation to reduce the spread of infection and this will continue so the need to travel for appointments is reduced.
The Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) and GP Out of Hours’ Service which is based at Pontefract will remain open with patients and staff using the separate entrance to the UTC.
Dr Abdul Mustafa, GP lead for cancer care for NHS Wakefield CCG, said: “Clinicians working in cancer services know that patients are choosing not to have time-critical cancer treatment because of fear of exposure to COVID-19 so it is really important to make sure people can be treated somewhere where the risk of exposure to the virus is very low.”
Martin Barkley, Chief Executive of The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We are really fortunate that we have excellent modern facilities at Pontefract Hospital, including consulting rooms and theatres, where we can really tightly manage the risk of infection, which means that we can reinstate vital cancer services.
“We have already restarted some procedures and hope to reintroduce other services over the next few weeks as we are able to free up space at the hospital and get essential equipment in place. These arrangements are likely to be needed for at least the next year to ensure people are able to get essential treatment while services are still stretched due to COVID 19.”
Professor Sean Duffy, Clinical Lead with the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance urged also urged anyone concerned about possible cancer signs and symptoms who have not yet contacted their GP for advice and support to do so as soon as possible.
“We understand that people have concerns at this time, but we want to reassure people that the NHS is still here and able to help those who need it. Early diagnosis saves lives, and it’s vital that people seek advice and support if they are worried.”