We explore the routes to cancer diagnosis to further undertanding of the inequality in the reduction in detection of new cancers since the start of the pandemic. We use different data sets to assess stages in the cancer pathway: primary care data for primary care consultations, routine and urgent referrals and published analysis of cancer registry data for appointments and first treatments.


Primary and cancer care.


In this study we combine multiple data sets to perform a population-based cohort study on different areas of the cancer pathway. For primary care analysis, we use a random sample of 5 00 000 patients from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Postreferral we perform a secondary data analysis on the Cancer Wait Times data and the National Cancer Registry Analysis Service COVID-19 data equity pack.

Outcome measures 

Primary care: consultation, urgent cancer referral and routine referral rates, then appointments following an urgent cancer referral, and first treatments for new cancer, for all and by quintile of patient’s local area index of multiple deprivation.


Primary care contacts and urgent cancer referrals in England fell by 11.6% (95% CI 11.4% to 11.7%) and 20.2% (95% CI 18.1% to 22.3%) respectively between the start of the first non-pharmaceutical intervention in March 2020 and the end of January 2021, while routine referrals had not recovered to prepandemic levels. Reductions in first treatments for newly diagnosed cancers are down 16.3% (95% CI 15.9% to 16.6%). The reduction in the number of 2-week wait referrals and first treatments for all cancer has been largest for those living in poorer areas, despite having a smaller reduction in primary care contact.


Our results further evidence the strain on primary care and the presence of the inverse care law, and the dire need to address the inequalities so sharply brought into focus by the pandemic. We need to address the disconnect between the importance we place on the role of primary care and the resources we devote to it.


Watt T, Sullivan R, Aggarwal A, Primary care and cancer: an analysis of the impact and inequalities of the COVID-19 pandemic on patient pathways, BMJ Open 2022;12

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