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7th June 2021

Cancer data project on the impact of COVID-19 wins major UK award

DATA-CAN has received a prestigious Royal College of Physicians Excellence in Patient Care Award.

Work by DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, in collaboration with University College London’s Institute of Health Informatics, has received a major UK award. The prestigious Royal College of Physicians Excellence in Patient Care Awards recognise the impressive work that doctors do to deliver patient-centred care through education, policy, clinical practice and research.

DATA-CAN won in the research category for its work on the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and cancer patients in collaboration with the UCL Institute of Health Informatics. This research was the first to highlight how the pandemic had led to significant delays in patient diagnosis and treatment in the UK, with seven out of 10 people with suspicious symptoms of cancer not being referred to specialist cancer services and four out of 10 cancer patients having their chemotherapy treatment delayed. Recent work has highlighted that over half a million endoscopies, the test we use to help diagnose cancers of the digestive system (for example bowel, oesophagus and stomach) have been missed, which may lead to thousands of extra cancer deaths.

Dr Charlie Davie, UCLPartners and Hub Director of DATA-CAN, said, “We are delighted to receive this award which recognises the impactful research that we have performed to enhance patient care. Creating insights from data collected in multiple hospitals across the UK is an exemplar of working together in partnership to address the significant challenges that the pandemic has raised for cancer patients and cancer services.”     

Dr Alvina Lai, UCL Institute of Health Informatics, said, “We are proud to see that our work on large-scale population health records is recognised by this award. Taking a ‘team science’ approach, we have developed methods and infrastructure that allow researchers to harness the power of real-world big data for policy-relevant research.”

In addition to the impact of this research in the UK, DATA-CAN’s work has also significantly influenced cancer policy, cancer research and cancer care across Europe. Based upon the data intelligence that DATA-CAN has generated, the European Cancer Organisation, Europe’s largest multi-professional organisation, established a Special Focussed Network on COVID-19 and Cancer. Work by this Network, which is co-chaired by Prof Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Scientific Director of DATA-CAN, has highlighted the overwhelming impact of COVID Europe-wide (EU27 and UK). Over 100 million cancer screening tests have been missed, while as many as one million European citizens may have an undiagnosed cancer.

Professor Lawler said, “We are proud to receive this prestigious award. Our research has shone a spotlight on the disastrous impact of COVID on cancer – it is frightening to think that over one million European citizens may be walking around with a ticking time bomb – an undiagnosed cancer. The UK has been a powerhouse for cancer research over the last decade and this work continues to emphasise our leadership role in cancer across Europe.”

Jacqui Gath, cancer survivor and member of DATA-CAN’s Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Group, said, “This is not only a recognition of the great work that DATA-CAN has produced over the last 12 months – it is a victory for cancer patients, who are firmly embedded at the heart of everything that DATA-CAN does.”

Data was contributed by the Royal Free Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals, UCLH, and combined data from Northern Ireland, including five health and social care trusts (HSCs) that cover all health service provisions in Northern Ireland: Belfast HSC, Northern HSC, South Eastern HSC, Southern HSC and Western HSC.