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The corona pandemic has brought many good things to Dutch cancer care. That is what researcher Sabine Siesling of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of the Netherlands (IKNL) says to NU.nl. “It was an unwanted testing ground.”
When corona broke out in 2020, everyone suddenly turned out to be able to switch quickly. Practitioners, patient organisations, policy makers: they were all available and flexible. The lines were short. Oncologists united in app groups. And appointments with patients? They could also be done digitally or by telephone.
It doesn’t sound all that complicated, Siesling agrees. But sometimes it takes a crisis to bring about big changes. In this case it was the corona pandemic. In any case, cancer care turned out to be able to adapt quickly.
A positive effect of the pandemic, for example, is the video consultation. In the first corona year, the hospital was seen as a possible source of infection. Visiting the hospital could also be difficult with the corona rules in force at the time. The cabinet said that people should travel as little as possible.
According to Siesling, this has brought a fundamental question to the table more quickly: do all appointments still have to take place in the hospital? “Part of the appointments have remained digital, interspersed with appointments in the hospital itself,” she says.
‘Without the pandemic we could never have done that so quickly’
During the first corona wave, there was less space in the intensive care unit for non-corona patients in the hospital. As a result, fewer operations were possible.
That also yielded new insights. For example, in a study context, some patients with breast cancer received hormone therapy before instead of after surgery. That reverse approach is promising and may persist. “Without the pandemic, we would never have been able to do that so quickly,” says Siesling.
According to her, the way of working has also become a lot more efficient since corona. For example, when creating new guidelines for treatments. “It always took a few months.” Suddenly it turned out to be a lot faster and more efficient. According to Siesling, this was mainly because the lines between the professional groups had become shorter.
Gemiste kankerdiagnoses ingehaald
- In het eerste jaar van de pandemie zijn zo’n vierduizend kankerdiagnoses gemist. Uit angst voor een coronabesmetting gingen minder mensen met klachten naar de huisarts. Dat betekende ook minder verwijzingen naar een oncoloog. Ook lagen de bevolkingsonderzoeken enkele maanden stil.
- De afgelopen twee jaar is de achterstand van kankerdiagnoses ingehaald. In 2021 en 2022 lag het aantal nieuwe kankerdiagnoses weer in de lijn der verwachting.
- Onderzoekers vreesden dat door de uitstel van diagnoses in 2020 er zich later meer patiënten met uitzaaiingen zouden melden. Dat bleek mee te vallen. Wel lijken er bijvoorbeeld meer mensen met borstkanker in een verder gevorderd stadium te zijn. Onderzoek naar de gevolgen daarvan loopt nog.
‘We are actually already in the next pandemic’
Communication between hospitals has also improved since the pandemic. “Think, for example, of distributing patients across hospitals. Regional networks and consultations already existed for this, but corona has increased that cooperation.”
For example, cancer care has learned a lot from corona. And that’s a good thing, because healthcare will face major challenges in the coming years. Siesling points to “the shortage of manpower, the aging population that’s coming and how we’re going to fund all of that. That’s the next pandemic. One that we’re actually already in.”
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