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Coronavirus and cancer – June updates

by Katie Roberts | Analysis

4 June 2020

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Illustration of COVID-19 coronavirus.

For the latest coronavirus updates from July, please visit our new COVID-19 updates post

  • 31 May – Shielding advice updated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • 29 May – UK nations begin to ease lockdown restrictions
  • 28 May – UK nations launch test and trace systems 
  • 27 April – NHS campaign urges people to get help if they need it
  • 21 April – Urgent cancer referrals fall across the UK
  • 21 March – Shielding measures introduced to protect people at high risk of COVID-19
  • See previous coronavirus and cancer updates from May or March and April.

We’re monitoring the latest government and NHS health updates from across the UK and updating this blog post regularly as new guidance emerges.

1 July – UK Government sets out ‘road map’ to cementing the UK as a science superpower

Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, laid out a road map to help cement the UK as a research and science superpower. The plan centres around attracting global talent, investing in research infrastructure and cutting unnecessary red tape.

We fully support the Government’s ambitions for the UK to be a science superpower. Right now, the UK isn’t investing enough in world-leading infrastructure, so a move to do so is welcome. Charities like Cancer Research UK play a unique and vital role in the research ecosystem, which should not be under-estimated. This also comes as medical research charities like us are feeling the financial impact of COVID-19, which is putting our life saving research at risk. We look forward to working with Government to shape how the Roadmap is implemented, and importantly protect the role that charities can play in achieving these shared ambitions.

– Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation.

30 June – Two NHS Nightingale hospitals converted into cancer testing centres

The Harrogate Nightingale hospital has been offering CT scans for people with suspected cancer since the beginning of June. It will be joined by the Exeter Nightingale hospital, which will start seeing multiple patients a day from next week in a bid to help with the growing backlog of people waiting for cancer screening, tests and treatment. Mail Online has the story.

29 June – Shops reopening in Scotland  

Non-essential retailers with street access are reopening their doors to shoppers, as lockdown lifts in Scotland. 

Following the difficult decision to close all 600 of our charity shops back in March, a phased reopening of our shops in England will commence from 29 June. Due to different lockdown policies across the UK, timescales for shops reopening in the devolved nations will vary, but most shops should be opening during the first two weeks of July

29 June – NHS Scotland discuss next steps 

A new advisory group will meet for the first time to discuss the recovery of health services in Scotland.   

The Mobilisation Recovery Group will advise on the next steps of recovery for NHS Scotland, which will include discussions around  diagnostic and cancer services.  

 29 June – Cancer patients anxiety over lockdown easing  

A study carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that over a quarter of a million people with cancer have experienced anxiety or panic attacks during the lockdown period.  

The research has suggested that recent changes to shielding advice, and the easing of lockdown restrictions, has created new fears for those living with cancer throughout the pandemic.  

29 June – Cervical cancer screening to resume in Scotland  

A number of NHS Scotland national screening programmes, which were put on hold in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will now resume, starting with cervical screening 

The Scottish Government has announced that those who had a cervical screening appointment cancelled, or who were invited to book an appointment before services were paused, will now be able to call their GP to book an appointment. Appointment invites and reminders will be sent in the post from mid-July

Invitations for cervical screening started to go out again in England in June, and Public Health Wales announced plans to restart cervical cancer screening in July. Screening services have been formally paused in Northern Ireland, more information is expected soon.  

22 June – Shielding advice updated in England

The Secretary of State has set out a ‘roadmap for the future of shielding’, with measures easing over time.

From the 6th of July, people who are shielding will be able to:

  • Meet groups of up to 6 people outdoors, whilst maintaining strict social distancing
  • Form a ‘support bubble’, if you live in a single adult household. This means spending time inside with one other household, including overnight stays – a measure that was rolled out to non-shielding single adult households in England on 10th June.

And from the 1st August, the Government will pause shielding advice, advising people to adopt strict social distancing rather than full shielding measures. This means people will be able to go back to work if they cannot work from home, as well as go to the supermarket, to places of worship, and for exercise, although the advice is to stay at home where possible.

The change will also mean that people will no longer receive food and medicines boxes from 1st August. But the Government have said that other forms of support – such as priority supermarket delivery slots and volunteer schemes – will continue. They’ve advised anyone who is concerned about support to contact their local authority.

Everyone who will be affected by these shielding changes will receive a letter with more information.

Updates to shielding advice were announced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this month – as advice varies in each nation please visit the relevant government websites for the latest guidance.

18 June – Northern Ireland Health Minister pauses shielding  

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the decision to pause current shielding advice if current trends continue. 

Coming into place on the 31st July, those who are shielding will be advised to follow the same guidelines as those considered to be generally vulnerable, which includes taking particular care and maintaining social distancing when out of the house. Letters are being sent to all those currently shielding with further information.  

18 June – Scottish government announces changes to shielding

From 18 June, people who have been asked to shield will be able to go outside for daily exercise with members of the same household, as long as infection rates remain low and social distancing is maintained.

This advice applies to people of all ages who are currently shielding, including pregnant women and children, but does not include those who live in a residential or nursing home. The changes bring Scottish advice in line with other UK nations, where shielding guidance changed at the end of May.

17 June – Cervical screening in Wales to resume in July 

Public Health Wales announced plans to restart cervical cancer screening programmes in July, with aims to invite clinical priority groups for breast and bowel cancer screening later on in the summer. And the Welsh Government have launched a new campaign encouraging people to get possible cancer symptoms checked.  

Like other UK nations, Wales has seen a reduction in the number of people being referred with potential cancer symptoms. The Government’s new campaign highlights how although tests and treatment for cancer have been adapted as a result of the pandemic, these services are still running.

17 June – COVID-19 related health inequalities investigated in Northern Ireland  

A report on coronavirus related health inequalities has been published by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.  

The report echoed the findings of reviews in other UK nations, showing that COVID-19 has exacerbated existing health inequalities, with those living in the most deprived areas and the elderly experiencing the highest rates of infections, hospital admissions and deaths. Read the full report here.  

17 June – Cervical screening services slowly unpausing

Invitations for cervical screening tests have started to go out again in England. Cancer screening programmes have been effectively paused in England because of the coronavirus pandemic, but invites to cervical screening started to go out in early June. Letters inviting people to attend breast screening or complete the home bowel screening kit are still paused, but invitations are starting to be sent out to those who took part in screening before COVID-19 and require follow up tests. The programme in England which invites women at higher risk of breast cancer is also inviting those who are eligible.

All screening services have been formally paused in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but more information is expected soon.

11 June – Urgent cancer referrals in April fell by 60% in England

New waiting time figures released by NHS England reveal that urgent cancer referrals in April were down by 60% compared to figures from April last year. Experts say these figures show just how much the virus has affected cancer services.

The latest figures also show a fall in the number of people receiving treatment on time.

It’s devastating to see the impact that COVID-19 is having on cancer patients and these figures show just how much the virus has affected cancer waiting times. This is why the NHS has been working hard to create ‘COVID-protected’ spaces for cancer services. An essential part of this is frequent testing of NHS staff and patients, including those without symptoms, so that vulnerable patients aren’t put at risk of contracting the virus. Patients need to know that cancer hospitals are a safe place to go, and that’s why we are calling for the Government and the NHS to make this happen as quickly as possible. The good news is that some services in the NHS have started to recover since April, and the news today about the quick roll out of innovative radiotherapy and chemotherapy is another step in the right direction. We’re also seeing that patients in many areas are starting to contact their GPs again for telephone and online appointments. This is incredibly important and we continue to urge people to speak to their doctor if they are worried about potential cancer symptoms or have questions about their care.

– Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK

11 June NHS England accelerates roll out of ‘modern’ cancer treatment during COVID-19 pandemic

NHS England today announced that it will accelerate the roll out of an innovative type of radiotherapy, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which requires fewer hospital visits. This high dose of radiation requires around 5 sessions, compared with the 20-30 visits required for conventional radiotherapy, and is more effective than standard radiotherapy for lung cancer.

So far, rollout of SABR has been slow, with access varying across the country, but NHS England has announced that radiotherapy clinics across the country will be offering SABR for non small cell lung cancer by April 2021.

NHS England has also announced they will be ramping up the use of ‘chemo buses’ in London and Yorkshire, which are being used to provide treatment for up to 240 patients daily without the need for people to travel long-distances.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stated that “hospitals are going to great lengths to deliver care and treatment for patients in a safe space, from online consultations to chemo buses and COVID-19 free surgical hubs”.

Experts have said that while both initiatives are positive steps to help reduce exposure to COVID-19, they’re unlikely to have a significant impact on the backlog of patients waiting for treatment.

10 June – ‘Support bubbles’ announced for single adult households in England

From Saturday 13th June, single adults living alone or with children under 18 will be allowed to form a “support bubble” with one other household. This makes it possible for adults to spend time inside someone else’s home for the first time since lockdown. However, people who are shielding are not allowed to be a part of a support bubble currently.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “I want to say I know how hard it is for those of you who are shielding, and we will say more next week about the arrangements that will be in place for you beyond the end of June.”

9 June – Scotland announces ‘action against inequality’  

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that an expert group will work with the Scottish Government to provide a clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

This comes days after a review into the impact of COVID-19 confirmed that the risk of death from the virus was higher in Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.  

The new group will consider evidence and data being gathered by various healthcare and government sources and advise on policy actions to alleviate any disproportionate effects of the virus of these communities. 

4 June – People in Wales advised to continue shielding until mid-August

Almost 130,000 people in Wales have been advised to continue shielding until 16th August. People who are shielding are now allowed go outside for exercise or to meet people from another household while following strict social distancing guidelines.

Those who are shielding have been asked to continue relying on existing personal or government support for help with tasks such as food shopping and medicine collection, with weekly food boxes and other services still available.

Dr Atherton, Wales’ chief medical officer, has said he “will continue to work with my chief medical officer colleagues to review the evidence for this group and will write to them again in the summer”.

4 June – Scottish Government publishes plans to get cancer surgery back on track

The framework aims to help hospitals resume cancer surgery and ensure services are delivered safely, efficiently and sustainably during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes information about prioritising treatment and minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.

2 June – Risk of death confirmed to be higher for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities

Public Health England (PHE) has published a report showing that the impact of COVID-19 mirrors existing health inequalities and has increased them in some cases. Although not yet fully understood why, the effect of coronavirus is disproportionate for Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, who are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19.

Age was another risk factor confirmed by the review, with figures suggesting that people aged 80 or over with coronavirus were seventy times more likely to die than those under the age of 40. The report also references several studies that indicate an increased risk of adverse outcomes in people who are obese or morbidly obese.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that that he felt a “deep responsibility because this pandemic has exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation”, BBC News reports. Hancock also said the Equalities Minister will now take forward a review on this, working closely with PHE.

1 June Contact tracing launched in Wales

As in other parts of the UK, people in Wales who test positive for the virus will be asked to provide a list of people they’ve recently been in close contact with (including travel companions, skin-to-skin contact, those within 1-2 metres, and more), as the Government website explains.

Contacts will then be asked to isolate for 14 days and book a test if they present with symptoms.

1 June Over 2 million people waiting for cancer screening, tests and treatments

New figures have revealed the disruption to cancer services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 2 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, tests and treatments since lockdown began, according to calculations by Cancer Research UK.

Visit our previous blog posts for coronavirus and cancer updates from May or March and April.


If you have questions about cancer, you can talk to our nurses Monday to Friday, 9-5pm, on freephone 0808 800 4040.


    9 October 2020

    The Symposium ended on a buoyant note confirming not only the importance of bringing together diverse socio-technical, clinical and economic perspectives in the effort to beat cancer but firmly anchoring the position of UK cancer research as a global leader in a rapidly changing biopolitical landscape.

    10 September 2020

    The devasting impact of coronavirus is being felt across cancer research. As Professor Bhavik Patel explains on Cancer Research UK’s science blog 7


    9 October 2020

    The Symposium ended on a buoyant note confirming not only the importance of bringing together diverse socio-technical, clinical and economic perspectives in the effort to beat cancer but firmly anchoring the position of UK cancer research as a global leader in a rapidly changing biopolitical landscape.

    10 September 2020

    The devasting impact of coronavirus is being felt across cancer research. As Professor Bhavik Patel explains on Cancer Research UK’s science blog 7