HEALTH bosses in Barnsley are stepping up their work to signpost residents to lifesaving cancer services - after medics admitted there was a ‘reluctance’ to come forward due to stigmas attached with reporting telltale signs.
According to a council report, discussed by councillors this week, 1,500 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Barnsley every year but it’s estimated that four in ten are deemed ‘preventable’ if they are picked up on at an early stage.
Latest figures for the town reveal almost a quarter of cases relate to lung cancer - the biggest killer in both males and females - while breast cancer accounts for 12.4 per cent and prostate cancer claims 11.8 per cent.
The Chronicle can reveal Barnsley’s foodbanks will be used to identify concerns - such as users’ persistent coughs or unexplained weight loss - before referrals can be made to GP surgeries across the borough.
The report said: “Lung cancer is responsible for the greatest proportion of cancer deaths in Barnsley, 24.2 per cent of all male and 24.4 per cent of all female cancer deaths.( “More than 70 per cent of lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by tobacco use, which is the largest contributor to preventable deaths.
“If the service user consents to a referral, foodbank staff will be able to email the care coordinator based at the patients GP surgery.”
Covid has also brought a ‘backlog to clear’, having paused breast screening services for six months and seen endoscopies at Barnsley Hospital shelved for three months.( The NHS’s long-term plan is for 75 per cent of patients to be diagnosed within 28 days by 2028, but Barnsley’s current rate for diagnosing stages one and two of the disease - which have the best chance of survival - is just 44 per cent.
Men - in particular - from more economically deprived areas or groups are reluctant to come forward at an early stage, according to the report.
Public health specialist practitioner at Barnsley Council, Kaye Mann, said the stepped-up prevention work will focus on removing the stigma attached to cancer symptoms, with a social media campaign in the wings.
“Every month GPs in Barnsley send more than 840 people to get their symptoms checked - about 92 per cent get the all-clear,” she added.
“In the last 40 years, cancer survival has more than doubled when diagnosed early.
“We can help those four people not to get that cancer through helping them to quit smoking, lose weight, or cut down on drinking.
“I’m keen that we do a lot of work to normalise talking about symptoms - there’s a lot of people who are embarrassed to talk about lumps in their breasts, or smear tests, or blood in their poo.”
The pandemic has also affected people’s confidence to see their GP, despite practices remaining open throughout - with the report revealing weekly referrals for suspected cancer dropped to less than 60 per week in June last year, which has now increased to around 800 per week.
Medics say services have been running throughout the last 18 months, but admitted staff from cancer departments had been moved during peak times of Covid admissions and delays in treatment had been encountered due to the availability of beds.
The Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - which runs healthcare services in the borough - encouraged anyone with concerns to come forward.
A CCG spokesperson said: “Cancer services have been prioritised and resourced throughout this period and the service continues to prioritise patients with suspected cancers for appointments and treatment as soon as possible.
“Our screening services have strong plans in place to address any backlogs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We would urge anyone who is contacted for a screening appointment to attend and if you are at all worried about a symptom that could be a sign of cancer, please make an appointment with your GP.”