Ministers should be focusing on the crisis in cancer care, not on the imposition of yet more intrusive regulations
Professor Karol Sikora
Throughout the Covid crisis, I have had much sympathy for politicians. Social media has given the nastiest corners of society a direct line to those governing us, and often the abuse can be beyond the pale. Mistakes have been made – we understand that – but what I find harder to forgive is the total unwillingness even to discuss the cancer crisis and other harmful consequences of lockdown policies.
Rehashing arguments about if, when, or how restrictions should be in place is pointless. What we need to do is have an open and frank discussion about their negative consequences so that we can do our best to mitigate them.
Instead, ministers have embarked on a bizarre quest to alter fundamentally how our society functions by considering the introduction of vaccine passports. We are talking about essentially dividing our country based on a person’s health status. That is an intensely private matter, and the fact we are even discussing having one pub for the unvaccinated and one for the vaccinated shows how far we’ve fallen. Hopefully, the virus will no longer be public health enemy number one by the time the Government sorts out the logistics of proof of vaccination.
There is a far more significant issue looming. In 2020, 40,000 fewer patients than we would have expected started cancer treatment, and that number will have significantly increased in the meantime. Hundreds of thousands fewer people have been urgently referred for suspected cancer, and across all types of cancers there are significant drops in the number of patients. Left untreated, cancer will kill. This is no longer a ticking time bomb, it’s happening now. At Rutherford, my cancer centre network, for months we have been seeing more patients coming forward with late-stage cancer than we would normally expect. These disruptions will sadly translate into far more severe complications further down the line.
When I describe this situation on Twitter, the responses are often that I’m wrong to frame it as a choice and that the Government should deal with all harms. Twelve months ago I would have agreed, but it’s now clear that politicians do not want to talk about this. Instead they will focus on ramming through outrageously intrusive and unethical policies like vaccine passports. I agree that there should be sufficient space to talk about both, but that has not happened.
Just talking about the cancer crisis will save lives. Forget glitzy ad campaigns or punchy slogans for now, we just need to talk about it. I wrote for the Telegraph a few weeks ago and called for a non-Covid health issue press conference, and the idea attracted much support. Since then, we’ve had several government press conferences filled with the usual back-patting. Go on any MP’s Twitter account and all you will see is fancy graphics detailing how many vaccinations have been given. Quite frankly, who cares? We know that the vaccination rollout has been an enormous success – it’s now time to start talking about the equally important cancer crisis.
If anyone has a good explanation as to why a non-Covid press conference can’t happen or is a bad idea, I am all ears.
Instead, as the national conversation twists, weaves and dodges around the cancer crisis, thousands more people will miss their cancer diagnosis. I expect over the coming weeks to see the vaccine passport debate, promoted by the Government, to consume more and more oxygen, leaving no room for anything else.
My sympathy for politicians is wearing thin. They need to get their priorities straight, and they need to do it quickly.
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