More cancer patients treated in Tatarstan than year ago at height of anti-COVID measures

How the pandemic helped to detect cancer

More cancer patients treated in Tatarstan than year ago at height of anti-COVID measures
Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Doors of polyclinics and hospitals closed in Tatarstan for non-COVID patients, all check-ups and scheduled hospitalisations have been put off for two months. These measures didn’t affect patients with cancer, however, the pandemic made amendments here too: 43 beds of the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital in Almetyevsk were reequipped to receive patients with COVID-19. At the same time, oncologists of the republic managed to receive 400 patients more than last year and treat 4,000 people more in inpatient clinics in these conditions for four months — from January to April. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report, read how they managed to do this, the role of anti-coronavirus measures in improving the diagnostics of cancer and how these measures influenced the diagnostics of cancer.

“If only you knew how scared I am”

“I did a check-up in late 2019,” Kazan citizen Yelena S. told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent. “Cancer was suspected according to her results. She was prescribed a consultation with an oncologist in the polyclinic in her place of residence. The oncologist told me to do tests. And the self-isolation regime was declared then, and the process stopped. I was said in the polyclinic that they would examine me only after the restrictive measures are lifted. I will soon have been living in the unknown for six months already, if only you knew how scared I am...”

Yelena refused to name her surname and the number of her polyclinic — she is afraid to spoil the relations with doctors her life depends on. Another patient — from Vysokaya Gora District — said anonymously that she couldn’t get an appointment for an examination to Kazan during strict self-isolation. Similar complaints without specific data are appearing in social networks now too. However, one of the long-time readers of this article’s author who has been meeting with an oncologist for long and has had a lot of chemotherapy said the opposite: he didn’t have any problems with medical advice in March-May 2020.

According to data provided to Realnoe Vremya by the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital of the Republic of Tatarstan, if 9,513 patients with cancer were treated in 24/7 inpatient clinics in January-April 2019, in January-April 2020, there were already 11,535. Photo: Maria Gorozhaninova

“There were almost no complaints”

Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent asked Vice Chief Doctor of the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital Alfir Khisamutdinov about the real state of affairs.

“We haven’t stopped providing help, but patient’s route changed because of the pandemic,” he said. “And those who were to receive treatment in the Almetyevsk clinic were sent to Kazan. After the issue of the decree of the Cabinet of Ministers, which suspended the operation of primary health care organisations in the usual regime, we had a number of teleconferences, prepared explanations — how to organise work on the spot, we even sent samples of passes.”

“What passes?”

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“To go to health care establishments. Our patients could do it either with an SMS pass or pass issued by a health care organisation, Moreover, we also issued the passes to those who accompanied patients who needed such help. There was created a chat for health care workers in a messenger for a quick solution to organisational problems. While we made a series of reports on television, a guide who and where should go. And there weren’t almost any complaints.”

More in outpatient clinic, less in polyclinic

According to data provided to Realnoe Vremya by the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital of the Republic of Tatarstan, if 9,513 patients with cancer were treated in 24/7 inpatient clinics in January-April 2019, in January-April 2020, there were already 11,535. However, if we compare data in April 2019 and 2020, there is an insignificant growth — just 78 cases more: 2,757 in April 2019, 2,835 in April 2020.

Day outpatient clinics also received more patients during four months in 2019 than last year — 6,483, and 8,044 during four months in 2020. In April 2019, they treated 1,907 patients, 2,084 — in April 2020.

While the number of visits in the polyclinic of the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital has fallen this year, though insignificantly: there were 103,550 during four months in 2019, and 103,154 during four months in 2020. Moreover, patient traffic in April fell by 200 people. This allows assuming that it was a bit tougher for patients to reach out to the primary link of cancer help during the coronavirus pandemic than before COVID.

Day outpatient clinics also received more patients during four months in 2019 than last year — 6,483, and 8,044 during four months in 2020. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Fewer beds, bigger turnout

How did they manage to increase the capacity of outpatient clinics with a considerable reduction in the number of beds because beds in the Almetyevsk clinic were repurposed?

“We had an opportunity to increase the turnover of a bed,” Khisamutdinov explained. He means that the term of patients’ stay in the outpatient clinic reduced. “Moreover, last year, we received a lot of new endoscopic equipment, X-ray CT units, so the number of examinations increased.”

According to him, better diagnostic results in positive results:

“The number of cancer diagnosed for the first time in January-April this year increased, though insignificantly. A bigger amount of X-ray CT helped it: 3,923 examinations of this kind were done in April 2020, 2,868 were done in April 2019. This means that 1,055 examinations more were done in April 2020,” said the vice chief doctor of the Republican Clinical Cancer Hospital.

So the pandemic unexpectedly helped Tatarstan patients with cancer: medics prescribed chest X-ray more often — new cases of the diseases were found too, which could have been diagnosed much later in other circumstances.

By Inna Serova
Tatarstan