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Understanding and learning from the impact of changes in colorectal cancer care delivery in light of COVID-19 and their interplay with socioeconomic inequalities University of Surrey

About 2 mins to read
  • Led by the University of Surrey, in partnership with University College London, North Central London Cancer Alliance, Bart’s Health NHS Trust, NHS Highland, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, Royal Surrey NHS Trust and Improving Cancer Care Action Group.
  • Research to help understand the impact of changes in health service delivery on cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Used colorectal cancer as an exemplar. 
  • Ran from October 2020 to November 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in rapid changes to health service delivery, with important implications for cancer care. These changes have influenced the way in which someone can now contact their GP, how people are tested for cancer, how teams determine the best treatment plan, and what type of treatment is offered.

Some of these changes are advantageous to patients, but there are also challenges, and some changes are beneficial for some and not others. 

People from more deprived areas of the UK have worse cancer outcomes than people in less deprived areas. There is concern that the rapid changes in care during COVID-19 could have increased this cancer deprivation gap.

This research project used colorectal cancer as an exemplar to help understand the impact of changes in cancer care on patient experience and outcomes.

The project team held interviews with patients from high and low deprivation areas of the UK who contacted their GP with a concerning symptom during the pandemic, and with health professionals in community and hospital settings.

The research found that changes to the colorectal cancer pathway during the pandemic, such as the use of remote technology and new testing procedures, made it more difficult for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This was because they found it harder to decide whether they should contact their GP about their symptoms, weren’t sure how to navigate services because of the new digital platforms, and were worried about the risk of COVID-19 infection if attending appointments in person. 

There were some COVID-19 related changes that were considered by health care professionals and patients to potentially redress inequalities. For example where remote consultations and simplified treatment pathways removed challenges around competing priorities.

The findings have been disseminated at conferences, and recommendations have been produced for those involved in diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer. The team is working on a video animation and infographic to demonstrate the main findings from the project.


For more information about this project, please contact Katriina Whitaker, Professor of Psychology and Lead for Cancer Care, University of Surrey.

More about the programme

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