Britain’s Looming Cancer Crisis

Professor Karol Sikora has warned that Britain faces “the biggest cancer crisis” he has ever encountered. The Government’s focus on suppressing Covid has “sucked the oxygen away from other pressing health issues” which now require urgent attention, he says in the Spectator.

Cancer, cardiac and countless other patients are crying out for help – but are ministers listening? 

Over the last year, politicians have been adopting untried and untested policies, the consequences of which none of us can yet fully grasp. The main aim, of course, of these extraordinary lockdown measures has been to suppress Covid in order to reduce pressure on our hospitals. That has been the metric on which Government approval has been judged.

Whether or not you agree with every restriction, it is clear that this focus has sucked the oxygen away from other pressing health issues. Covid required a response unlike anything we have seen in modern times. But was it right that this happen at the expense of so many other illnesses which have torn apart millions of families? 

Too often it has been framed as Covid or cancer; it does not need to be like this. We turned the country on its head to deal with this virus; we now need to tackle the non-Covid health crisis with the same vigour.

I’ve been a consultant oncologist for 40 years. I thought I had seen everything but make no mistake: this is the biggest cancer crisis I have ever encountered. While daily updates on Covid case numbers and deaths give a picture of the grim toll of the pandemic, cancer just doesn’t work like that. A delayed diagnosis can turn a 80% survival rate into 20% and that is over a matter of months, not years. At Rutherford, my cancer centre network, we are now seeing far more patients than usual presenting with later-stage cancers. Lives have already been lost and the insidious, relentless nature of cancer will mean that will continue for some time.

Professor Sikora notes that the biggest issue which needs to be overcome if the crisis is to be dealt with is awareness. He suggests a Downing Street press conference dealing with non-Covid health issues as a starting point.

The PM needs to outline the urgency of the situation and stress that help is there for those that need it. It won’t solve everything, but it will at least start a conversation. It would do a lot more good than some of the current scripted attempts.

In a recent pice for Lockdown Sceptics, Dr Ann Bradshaw, a retired senior lecturer in adult nursing at Oxford Brookes, wrote that the Government’s mixed messages about the safety of the NHS could be putting people off using it.

And what of the mammogram? Will I be socially distanced in the waiting room? Will the radiographer have clean hands? Will the equipment carry Covid specks? The Government warnings ring again, loudly in my ears. Hospitals are breeding grounds. How many secret Covid spreaders will I encounter? To put my mind at rest I Googled “mammogram” and “Covid”. Oh no – apparently, mammograms after Covid vaccinations can give false positives. So that’s out. Easy decision this time. Or is it? What if I have a hidden lump?

Professor Sikora’s article is worth reading in full.

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