FEARS have been raised about the impact on cancer patients after thousands of people in the North-East missed out on potentially life-saving scans when non-Covid NHS services ground to a halt.

The number of diagnostic scans – including MRI, CT scans and ultrasounds – carried out in the North-East and Yorkshire dropped by a third between April and September, compared with the same time period in 2019.

The area saw the largest decline in England in the overall number of scans, which dropped by 856,780.

Waiting times for diagnostic tests also surged – in October, there were 188,262 people on the waiting list in the region, of which 13 per cent had been waiting for at least three months and 30 per cent for six weeks.

Jodie Moffatt, head of early diagnosis for of Cancer Research UK, said: “We are very concerned about the impact the virus will have on cancer.

"The length of time people are waiting for a scan will be having a negative impact on their diagnosis.

“Those patients could be diagnosed with a more aggressive, later stage cancer. That will limit the treatment options available to them also.

“There is a cohort of patients out there that have not been diagnosed yet - and who knows what state they will be in when they are.”

The largest drop in scans in the region was at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation, where they fell by 41 per cent.

The trust said scans were carried out for a variety of reasons, not just to diagnose cancer and added that performance figures for September were the best in the Northern Cancer Alliance, with 94.5 per cent of patients seen within two weeks.

In County Durham and Darlington, the number of scans carried out dropped by a quarter.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Despite rapidly rising Covid hospitalisations, CT scans are now back to the same levels as last year, while MRI scans are back up to 88 per cent compared to last October and the NHS has bolstered its diagnostic capacity by securing a deal with the independent sector to provide 34 mobile CT scanners across the country.

“At the height of the first wave, some people chose to postpone care, but since then hospital admissions have rebounded, non-urgent treatment has increased by 300 per cent between April and September and GP appointments are now operating at well above usual levels, while the NHS message to the public remains the same – come forward and get the care you need."

Prior to the pandemic, a report found the NHS should employ 6,000 more radiologists to reduce diagnostic delays.

Dr William Ramsden, vice president of the clinical radiology faculty for the Royal College of Radiologists, said staff had done "heroically".

He added: "However, the stress in the system and the previous issues have made us accumulate a backlog. I just hope we can get over that as soon as we can.”