elderly patient
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The underreported story of the entire pandemic is excess deaths — not from Covid, but from other health conditions which were so brutally pushed to one side. There have been huge rises in the number of people dying from causes unrelated to the virus, accelerating throughout the year and showing no signs of slowing down.

To begin with, it was driven by diabetes, cardiac issues and a handful of other concerns — but recently the number of people dying from cancer is starting to increase considerably above what is expected. Will this continue? Nobody can say for sure, but I suspect it will for many years to come.

When I outlined the scale of the cancer crisis previously on Twitter, various voices took great pleasure in pointing out that cancer deaths weren't rising — I don't hear from them anymore. Indeed, many of the more vocal lockdown commentators are actively drawing attention to the problem now.

Cancer is slow, but it's relentless. An undiagnosed tumour won't cause severe complications in days or weeks. But if it's left untreated for a year or two then the odds of survival drop precipitously. I fear that those lockdown delays are now starting to bite.

NHS Digital states that in 2020 there were 288,753 new cancer diagnoses — that is 38,421 fewer than in 2019. Full statistics for 2021 aren't available yet, but it's fair to assume that it would be a similar number again. A recent report estimated that across Europe the number was a gargantuan one million fewer diagnoses — it really is scandalous. Yet no public outcry, no emergency press conferences, no outrageous scaremongering tactics. Why is that?

Proponents of harder and longer lockdowns will go to great lengths to deny the impact that lockdown and associated fear-based messaging had on these numbers. There is a concerted effort to whitewash the health consequences of relentless restrictions, but that stain is not easy to remove.

Those of us with clearer memories will recall the one overriding instruction we were all given — 'stay home'. And that's exactly what millions of seriously ill people did, regardless of the state of their own health. Just look at the excess death figures in private homes right from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 — sky-high every single week. Tens of thousands of people stayed and died at home. That's a sorry fact.

Reporting a worrying symptom to a professional requires a high threshold of concern even at the best of times, especially for men of a certain age. But to do so when reports of overwhelmed hospitals are being beamed into your front room on a daily basis? It just didn't happen for thousands and thousands of people. The tumour went undetected and continued to grow, only to be discovered a year or two later at a far more advanced stage. Chances of long-term survival drop from about 90% at stage one to roughly 10% at a later stage. A stark difference.

It is a biological fact that if approximately 70,000 cases went undetected, a vast number of life years would be lost. Lockdown messaging was undoubtedly to blame for a significant percentage of that.

Another enormous contributing factor towards that overall number was access to healthcare, in terms of both entering the system and then receiving the appropriate diagnostic tests. However people want to spin it, getting a face-to-face GP appointment has been and remains an extremely difficult task. Even if you managed to follow it up with a timely biopsy or scan it was yet more convoluted. Covid-induced staff absences did contribute to this, but so did a blinding focus on one disease from our establishment's leadership.

Think of all of those press conferences. Scotch eggs were mentioned more than cancer. And what of the vaccine rollout? Had a fraction of that effort been directed towards supporting services for non-Covid diseases, so much suffering would have been averted.

This just scratches the surface on diagnosis. Delays are as awful as I have ever seen — targets which are seen as pathetic in countries of similar wealth continue to be missed.

Personally, I'm involved in an ongoing struggle to reopen a network of world-class cancer centres after closure following the pandemic. The decision-maker, an investment fund manager named Equitix, holds the power but refuses to act — thousands of patients would benefit.

There are fires to put out everywhere, in both the public and private sectors.

Not to forget the impact on long-term prevention. Britain is now fatter, unhealthier and more likely to develop cancer directly because of lockdown policies. We were dealing with a virus that disproportionately targeted the obese and what was our response? Legally mandate people to stay at home and ban so much exercise, even for children. A disastrous mistake that will take countless lives over the coming years and decades.

Anticipating the usual lazy response of smearing those of us concerned about the irrefutable evidence of lockdown's health impact as wanting to 'let the virus rip', I'd like to point out that despite parts of this crisis being caused by Covid, our own policies contributed far more in my view.

Lockdown policies were a choice. Intense fear-based messaging was a choice; essentially locking people in their homes was a choice; failing to give attention to anything that wasn't Covid was a choice.

It wasn't our lockdown or absolutely nothing. There was a better, more balanced way. This isn't hindsight: plenty of us said so at the time, in the face of appalling personal attacks and abuse.

Cancer services in Britain are in a truly horrific place and I sincerely appreciate that the causes are complex, ranging from brutal Government lockdown propaganda to a severely stretched workforce. However, attempts to rewrite pandemic history must be resisted — lockdowns and associated choices had an unforgivable impact on cancer patients with an immeasurable amount of suffering as a result. I fear it has only just begun.