Experts from Lancashire health organisations and beyond have warned that cancer survival rates could fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes as Cancer Research UK estimates that three million people in the UK have missed out on cancer screening since the end of March and that more than 350,000 people who would normally be urgently referred to hospital with suspected cancer symptoms were not.

Dr Neil Smith, Cancer Research UK’s GP for Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance, said the second wave of Covid-19 is already being felt in GP practices and that in his surgery a third of staff are off because of coronavirus.

He said: “I am worried about this winter, I’ve been doing this job for 25 years, I think it’s going to be the hardest time that we’re all going to see.

“My biggest fear is that in future years I’ll be doing more home visits for palliative care because I, as a GP, am not diagnosing my patients soon enough this year as I’d like to, as I have done in the past.

“The biggest thing that I have noticed during coronavirus is that fewer of my patients are actually coming forwards to tell me about the signs and symptoms of cancer.

“They seem to be reluctant to do so.

“It is very understandable.

“If somebody has a cough they are a pariah, they have got to stay at home and do a Covid test and isolate for two weeks.”

He added: “In the future, even more of my patients are going to be diagnosed even later with lung cancer.

“And the other area I’m particularly worried about – I’m seeing far fewer men with urinary symptoms and I do think I’ll be diagnosing prostate cancer later because of Covid.

“As a GP, I’d like to tell patients if they have got any symptoms or signs that they are worried about, contact your GP.

“Cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic.”

Meanwhile, on a national level, Cancer Research UK has urged people to come forward with any worrying symptoms, with experts reiterating the message that the health service is open for business in the safest way possible.

The charity said the number of urgent suspected lung cancer referrals has been the slowest among cancer types to recover since April and that more than 16,000 fewer patients were urgently referred for lung cancer tests since March

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Without a doubt, Covid-19 has had a really devastating impact on cancer services and patients.

“Cancer survival here in the UK lags behind comparable countries – Ireland, Norway, Canada, Australia – but the pandemic has made this worse, leaving millions of patients in a backlog waiting for cancer screening, urgent referrals and treatment, and we at Cancer Research UK really fear that this will mean poor survival for cancer patients.”

She added: “It’s essential that we keep cancer treatments and cancer services up and running.”