PATIENTS are being urged to seek help from their GP over cancer concerns following a massive decrease in referrals to Colchester Hospital.

It is feared the full indirect effects of coronavirus may not be known for years, with deaths due to cancer likely to only emerge in the long term.

Dr Alice Parr, North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) cancer lead, said delaying seeking help makes cancer harder to treat and limits options.

She has told patients not to be put off from going to their GP.

Dr Parr, who is based at West Bergholt Surgery, said: “We have noticed a very big decrease in referrals into hospital.

“The numbers had dropped by 69 per cent across all specialties overall.

“It has come back up and we’re now about 50 per cent down - 350 referrals a week - compared to last year, but we know the rate of new cancer diagnosis is on an uphill trend, so it makes absolutely no sense that it’s so much lower.

“The real worry is that people aren’t going to see their GP because they don’t want to add a burden onto the NHS.

“That is commendable, but there is capacity there.

“We want to hear from them - cancer services are still working.

“The second concern is that people are worried they might catch coronavirus if they come anywhere near the NHS.

“The important thing is everybody has changed the way we work quite significantly.

“Every GP surgery is doing telephone or video consultations first - you don’t have to physically go anywhere.”

The CCG is also working with the private Oaks Hospital in Colchester, which has been kept Covid-19 free, for much of the diagnostic work.

Anyone who is concerned about cancer should see their GP or call the NHS on 111.