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Healthcare in England was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the pancreatic cancer pathway

The pandemic affected healthcare in England across the pancreatic cancer pathway. Positive lessons could be learnt from the services that were resilient and those that recovered quickly

eLife, 2023

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Authors
Citation
Lemanska A, Andrews C, Fisher L, et al. Healthcare in England was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the pancreatic cancer pathway: A cohort study using OpenSAFELY-TPP. Elife. 2023;12. doi:10.7554/eLife.85332
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Background

Healthcare across all sectors, in the UK and globally, was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We analysed healthcare services delivered to people with pancreatic cancer from January 2015 to March 2023 to investigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods

With the approval of NHS England, and drawing from a nationally representative OpenSAFELY-TPP dataset of 24 million patients (over 40% of the English population), we undertook a cohort study of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We queried electronic healthcare records for information on the provision of healthcare services across the pancreatic cancer pathway. To estimate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, we predicted the rates of healthcare services if the pandemic had not happened. We used generalised linear models and the pre-pandemic data from January 2015 to February 2020 to predict rates in March 2020 to March 2023. The 95% confidence intervals of the predicted values were used to estimate the significance of the difference between the predicted and observed rates.

Results

The rate of pancreatic cancer and diabetes diagnoses in the cohort was not affected by the pandemic. There were 26,840 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer from January 2015 to March 2023. The mean age at diagnosis was 72 (±11 SD), 48% of people were female, 95% were of White ethnicity, and 40% were diagnosed with diabetes. We found a reduction in surgical resections by 25–28% during the pandemic. In addition, 20%, 10%, and 4% fewer people received body mass index, glycated haemoglobin, and liver function tests, respectively, before they were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There was no impact of the pandemic on the number of people making contact with primary care, but the number of contacts increased on average by 1–2 per person amongst those who made contact. Reporting of jaundice decreased by 28%, but recovered within 12 months into the pandemic. Emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and deaths were not affected.

Conclusions

The pandemic affected healthcare in England across the pancreatic cancer pathway. Positive lessons could be learnt from the services that were resilient and those that recovered quickly. The reductions in healthcare experienced by people with cancer have the potential to lead to worse outcomes. Current efforts should focus on addressing the unmet needs of people with cancer.