Matt Hancock has said that cancer treatments may be affected if the virus gets out of control as cases spiral by 12,000 yesterday and the Government reveals it missed 16,000 positive results due to an Excel Spreadsheet error
Cancer patients may only be guaranteed timely treatment if Covid-19 stays 'under control', Matt Hancock claimed today as he faced a roasting from MPs over an Excel spreadsheet blunder that has potentially led to tens of thousands of Britons being unaware they are infected with the virus.
The Health Secretary claimed that it was 'critical for everybody to understand the best way to keep cancer services running is to suppress the disease', suggesting that hundreds of thousands of patients may face delays to planned surgery and chemotherapy, if the outbreak continues to spiral.
Vital operations were cancelled and patients missed out on potentially life-saving therapy in the spring because tackling Covid-19 became the sole focus of the health service, instead of cancer and other cruel diseases.
Almost 2.5million people missed out on cancer screening, referrals or treatment at the height of lockdown, even though the NHS was never overwhelmed — despite fears it would be crippled by the pandemic.
Experts now fear the number of people dying as a result of delays triggered by the treatment of coronavirus patients could even end up being responsible for as many deaths as the pandemic itself.
Surgeons have worriedly called for hospital beds to be 'ring-fenced' for planned operations during the pandemic, to avoid the upheaval of spring where patients faced a 'tsunami of cancellations' as the health service focused on battling coronavirus.
But in a bruising appearance in the House of Commons today, Mr Hancock warned Covid-19 could once again disrupt cancer treatment and told MPs that controlling the virus would allow the NHS to 'recover the treatment that we need to for cancer and other killer diseases'.
He said: 'It's critical for everybody to understand that the best way to keep cancer services running is to suppress the disease, and the more the disease is under control the more we can both recover and continue with cancer treatments.
Labour also viciously tore into Mr Hancock's latest blunder, which saw officials miss 16,000 positive test results because of a cataclysmic Excel error. Around 50,000 of their contacts are estimated to have gone un-traced.
Firing on all cylinders after the his counterpart failed to answer exactly many of them have now been traced, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: 'So, essentially there are thousands of people who have been exposed to the virus who are probably wandering around not knowing they've been exposed and could be infecting people, and he cannot even tell us if they've been traced.'
No 10 admitted this afternoon that just 63 per cent of the 'missing' 16,000 Covid-19 cases have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Most contacts are tracked and told to self-isolate within 48 hours, but ongoing delays with the system mean many continue to circulate through the community after being exposed to the virus. Experts have warned the system will only be effective if the vast majority of cases are tracked quickly.
Britain recorded 76 coronavirus deaths today, with ten in Wales, as the number of new cases identified spiked to 14,542 across the country. It is thought this is far from the height of the pandemic when an estimated 100,000 new infections occurred every day.
As the country reels from the Excel spreadsheet disaster:Boris Johnson promises to reverse Covid-19 advance of the state into our daily lives at an address to the 'virtual' Conservative party conference; Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales spike by 55 per cent with 215 victims in a week, but they are still 2.5 per cent of the levels they were at in the spring; The Prime Minister prepares to unveil a new three-tier 'traffic light' lockdown system for the country; Hospitalisations are still at six per cent of peak in South, but have risen to 30 per cent of this level in the North, analysis by MailOnline has revealed; Britain today announced a further 14,542 cases of coronavirus and 76 deaths from the disease.
Government data shows that the North West and North East and Yorkshire are the only regions to have seen a sustained and sharp increase in people being admitted to hospital (line graphs show daily hospital admissions between April and October). All regions saw a rise in cases, hospitalisations and deaths in September as people returned to offices and schools after the summer, but across most of the country these have since come under control. Hospital patients in the two northern regions and the Midlands make up more than three quarters of the entire number for England (76.8 per cent), while patient numbers in the southern half of the country remain at just a fraction of where they were in April
Wards on private hospitals will be kept 'Covid-19 free' to ensure continued treatment of cancer patients, they said
Surgeons are calling for hospital beds to be 'ring-fenced' for planned operations, to avoid a 'tsunami of cancellations' due to rising Covid-19 cases.
A survey for the Royal College of Surgeons of England found most surgeons thought the NHS could not meet its targets to get surgery back to pre-pandemic levels.
Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, wrote to NHS trusts in July saying that, in September, they should hit at least 80 per cent of their last year's activity for both overnight planned procedures and for outpatient or day case procedures. In October, this figure should rise to 90 per cent, the letter said.
But the Royal College of Surgeons said its analysis showed trusts were not hitting the target, with issues including surgeons being forced to wait for coronavirus test results and a lack of access to operating theatre space.
The Government's beleaguered Test and Trace system is under renewed scrutiny after it emerged 16,000 positive cases had been missed due to an Excel Spreadsheet error — where cases were cut off after a certain number of rows was reached.
After they were identified, Public Health England officials said the cases were transferred to NHS Test and Trace 'immediately' and thanked contact tracers for their 'additional efforts' over the weekend to clear the backlog.
The disastrous oversight, which officials are keen to blame on the soon-to-be-defunct Public Health England, meant the missing cases were not contacted and traced, despite testing positive for the virus, meaning it may have continued to spread in the local community.
But Mr Hancock — who heads up the Department of Health — only faced one question on the blunder today, from Mr Ashworth.
Firing a broadside at the beleaguered Health Secretary this morning, Mr Ashworth demanded: 'Given the ONS has said today that deaths have increased for three weeks in a row and given rising prevalence of the virus, can he understand the upset and the anger over the Excel spreadsheet blunder?
'And can he tell us today what he couldn't tell us yesterday? Of the 14,000 contacts - not the index cases, the contacts - how many have been traced and how many are now isolating?'
Admitting Test and Trace had still failed to reach all those whose results were not reported, Mr Hancock replied: 'Well, we have obviously been continuing to contact both the index cases and the contacts. Of course the total number of contacts depends on how many contacts each index case has. So that information will of course be made available in the normal way when it has been completed.
'But you can't know in advance how many contacts there are because you have to do the intervening interviews with the index cases first.'
Tearing into his counterparts ever-growing litany of failures, Mr Ashworth summarised: 'So, essentially there are thousands of people who have been exposed to the virus who are probably wandering around not knowing they've been exposed and could be infecting people, and he cannot even tell us if they've been traced.'
He also savaged the Government's cack-handed admission yesterday that the vaccine will be administered to less than half the country - rather than the whole population as had been previously suggested.
'I listened carefully to what he said about a vaccine yesterday in light of the news that the Government is aiming to vaccinate around 30million people - that is just under 50 per cent of the population,' he said.
'Can I put it to him that there has been an expectation that the whole of the population would be vaccinated, not least because he said at the Downing Street press conference that 'I would hope given the scale of the crisis we would have a vaccine and everybody would have the vaccine' - they're his words.
'So can he tell us for the 50 per cent of people who will not be vaccinated how soon will it take to return to normal for them?'
Scotland could be plunged into a new 'circuit breaker' lockdown within days despite Nicola Sturgeon being warned it will be a disaster for the economy.
There are claims hospitals have been told to brace for the two-week squeeze to start at 7pm Friday amid mounting alarm at the surge in coronavirus cases.
The dramatic move is on the table despite the First Minister being warned that 'switching the lights on and off' would take the economy in Scotland 'back to square one'.
Meanwhile, the situation is looking increasingly perilous south of the border, with cities including Sheffield, Oxford and Nottingham seemingly at risk of harsher restrictions as Boris Johnson tries to get a grip on local flare-ups.
Neil Ferguson - known as 'Professor Lockdown' warned this morning that pubs could have to shut altogether in parts of England to keep schools open.
An NHS source revealed last night to the The Sun they had been told another Scottish lockdown was coming. They added: 'We've been told to expect it from 7pm on Friday.'
Figures published for the first time yesterday show 43 per cent of all cases across Scotland last week were in only two council areas - Glasgow and Edinburgh.
It sparked renewed calls for Ms Sturgeon to avoid imposing draconian restrictions on parts of the country with low virus rates.
But a recent Government report warned there could be another 100,000 job losses by the end of the year.
The Health Secretary claimed: 'As he well knows, decisions on the distribution of any vaccine have not been taken. The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations are the body that advises the Government on the appropriate clinical prioritisation of vaccines. They have published an interim guide and that sets out the order of priority as an interim but we await the data on the, from the clinical trials of the vaccine before we'll come to a, err, to a clinically validated full roll out plan.
'We're putting in place a logistical plan now. But the decisions as to the clinical order priority is one on which we'll take the evidence from the committee.'
Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner laid into the Health Secretary this morning and called for him to stand down from his position over his 'disgraceful' handling of the crisis.
She described Mr Hancock as a 'total disaster for the country' in an interview on Good Morning Britain, and said the latest swabbing errors had made the UK a 'laughing stock' around the world.
Most of the questions Mr Hancock faced related to the government's handling of other parts of the Covid-19 pandemic, including cancer treatment.
Telling the Commons operations for cancer patients may be rolled back in the face of spiralling coronavirus infections, he said: 'It's critical for everybody to understand that the best way to keep cancer services running is to suppress the disease, and the more the disease is under control the more we can both recover and continue with cancer treatments.
'It's beholden on all of us to make the case that controlling this virus not only reduces the number of deaths directly from coronavirus but also enables us as best as possible to recover the treatment that we need to for cancer and other killer diseases.'
He said cancer referrals had reached more than 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in July, while 95 per cent of all cases received treatment within 31 days.
To maintain these levels and avoid future cancellations the Government is planning to make wards in private hospitals hired by the NHS 'Covid-19 free' so that it can continue treating cancer and other diseases, while battling a surge in hospitalisations due to the virus.
Coronavirus hospital admissions are still rising - but remain far below the peak seen in the spring. In the South, it is just six per cent of the levels seen in April while in the North this figure is at 30 per cent.
Royal Stoke University Hospital, which transferred its cancer treatment to Nuffield Health in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the start of the pandemic, was held up as an example of what others should look to achieve.
Mr Hancock said: 'Because (private hospitals) very rarely have the pressures of emergency attendance that means that we can ensure that they are part of the 'green' part of the health service.
'(This means) that they are as free as is feasibly possible from coronavirus and therefore able to carry out all sorts of cancer treatments.'
He added: 'These referrals are leading to the action that's necessary and it's very important that the message goes out that the NHS is open and that anybody with a concern over cancer should come forward and that we can save lives.'
Almost 2.5million people missed out on cancer tests and treatments during the first wave of the pandemic, according to Cancer Research UK.
They said more than 2.1million are still waiting for crucial screenings for breast, cervical and bowel cancer. Another 290,000 have missed out on urgent referrals to confirm or rule out tumours. More than a million women missed checks for breast cancer at the height of the pandemic, Breast Cancer Now has said.
If these extra procedures had been allowed to go ahead, some would have saved lives or extended them, granting extra invaluable time to families.
Sara Bainbridge, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: 'We, and likely thousands of people living with cancer, are deeply concerned by the Health Secretary's suggestion earlier today that the recovery of cancer services could be under threat if the virus is not controlled.
'It is critical that the Government and NHS learns from the consequences of the first wave of the coronavirus - which are still being felt eight months on - and does not disrupt vital services that take a long time to recover, while people with cancer are left waiting.
'It must not be underestimated just now serious the implications of postponing or cancelling cancer treatment and tests would be for patients' physical and mental health - and for the already significant backlog the NHS faces.'
Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, savaged Matt Hancock's ever-growing list of failures in the pandemic
The UK has recorded another 63 coronavirus deaths in the preliminary count, as official figures show the number of number of people falling victim to the virus has risen by 55 per cent in a week.
Fifty of today's deaths were recorded in hospitals in England, while two were in Scotland and Northern Ireland posted one. Wales reported 10 new deaths - the first time this figure has risen to double figures since June. The preliminary total is calculated by adding up deaths posted by NHS England and the health boards in the three other home countries. The Department of Health will announce the true tally later today.
Health bosses in Wales are actively considering forcing visitors from hotspots around the UK to quarantine when they arrive in the country in a bid to curtail the spiralling crisis there. New restrictions in Scotland are to be announced tomorrow, with Nicola Sturgeon refusing to rule out local travel restrictions or the closure of pubs and restaurants in areas with higher rates of the virus. Tighter rules in England are also expected to be announced this week.
It came as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - a Government-run agency - revealed that Covid-19 deaths had jumped by 55 per cent in a week. The virus was mentioned on 215 death certificates in the week that ended September 25, up from 139 deaths recorded the previous week and more than double the 99 posted a fortnight ago. Although clearly trending the wrong way, Covid-19 deaths only accounted for 2 per cent of the 9,600-plus deaths registered in the week ending September 25 in England and Wales.
As he responded to questions in the Commons this morning, the Health Secretary was told to show respect for local authorities by supporting public health teams to run test and trace systems.
Labour's Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) told the Commons: 'Yesterday the Health Secretary told me 'we have been putting that money into councils. What money is that? £7 million he announced, split between nine councils. That is against a £12 billion for Serco. That's not putting that extra money into councils, is it?
'So can I ask him to show respect for members of this House, and more importantly for our constituents, and answer the question: when is he going to stop relying on the outsourcing giants and support local public health teams with the funds they need - because that