A leading surgeon claims cancer patients “could die” as a result of surgery being delayed due to coronavirus.
Gethin Williams, a consultant colorectal surgeon at the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, said all surgery there had been affected by Covid-19.
He said staff were taking difficult decisions every day as operating theatres were being turned into makeshift intensive care units.
Two weeks ago health minister Vaughan Gething said all non-urgent appointments and procedures would be postponed but he reiterated that cancer care would continue.
However Mr Williams said bowel cancer operations had since stopped at the Royal Gwent and this could have serious consequences for some patients.
“Bowel cancer in some people can grow, bleed, obstruct and can spread,” he told BBC Wales News.
“Some people’s cancers are fast-growing, some people’s cancers are slow-growing. We’ve had to take really tough decisions over the past week or so.”
When quizzed about whether some cancer patients could die as a result of treatment being delayed he said it was likely.
“Yes, I think that’s probably the case. The rate at which Covid-19 is going through the Royal Gwent, there’ll be no colorectal surgery for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“Without treatment some cancers could obstruct, others could metastasise, although in many cases these cancers would have been there for a good few months anyway, but in some cases the prognosis would be worse.”
A map of the confirmed cases of Covid-19 across Wales
Judi Rhys, chief executive of cancer care charity Tenovus, said it was “extremely worrying” to hear patients could see crucial surgery postponed.
Andy Glyde, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Wales, added: “We would urge any patients who are concerned about their treatment to speak to their doctor and follow NHS guidance. NHS staff are working tirelessly to adapt to the virus pandemic.
“We know that patients suffering from cancer are at higher risk of complications from viral infections such as flu and Covid-19 is likely to be no different. Case-by-case treatment decisions will have to be based on patient risks and benefits across the service as in-patient hospital care may expose cancer patients to the virus.”
Latest figures for Wales show Aneurin Bevan health board has 358 confirmed of coronavirus, making up almost half of Wales’ overall total of 741.
Its director of public health, Sarah Aitken, said the area could be “following Italy” and faced being overwhelmed by a rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
On Thursday chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton gave a reason for the surge in cases in this particular part of Wales. He said: “Aneurin Bevan has seen a higher number of cases than elsewhere in Wales and there are a few reasons for that.
“First of all it is closer to England. We know that the ‘hotspot’ in the UK is around London and so being on the border with England is an issue.
“The second reason is that there has been a lot more testing in that particular health board, so as a natural consequence there has been more cases identified.”
But he stressed that as the epidemic unfolds in Wales there will be areas which “flare up” with cases and then “calm down a bit”.
“It’s a complex issue. The underlying message is that the virus is circulating widely in all parts of Wales. At the moment it may be circulating to a higher degree in south Wales but that may change over time.
“It’s a very fluid, very dynamic situation that we are trying to keep a watch on.”