Great Britain

It’s time for action to tackle the cancer crisis – tens of thousands of lives are at risk if Govt don’t act NOW

CANCER referrals in England have plunged by nearly 50 per cent, delays for treatment have reached record highs, and experts have warned of 35,000 extra cancer deaths due to Covid.

Today, after losing their daughter Kelly Smith to cancer during lockdown, Mandy and Craig Russell have launched a petition calling on the Government to take action and flatten the cancer curve.

Sun columnist and mum-of-two Deborah James, 38, was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer three years ago, and is terrified at the growing cancer crisis we face. Kelly was one of her best cancer pals, and today she is calling on Sun readers to act...

ENOUGH is enough. I know coronavirus is the priority, I get it.

But it’s time to take off the blinkers and start to see what’s really happening - right under our Covid-infected noses.

We stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives.

We flattened the curve, but in doing so we are facing an even more terrifying crisis - the real ‘big C’, cancer.

It's time to act

So far, more than 44,000 lives have been lost to Covid-19, but the reality is many more will die.

This week, I exclusively revealed in my Sun column and the first episode of BBC Panorama I have presented, that experts estimate we could see 35,000 extra cancer deaths this year, as a result of the crisis.

It’s a horrifying figure, not least because those deaths are avoidable.

That’s why it’s time for action. We need to see a robust plan from the Government setting out exactly how they will flatten the cancer curve.

One of those lives already lost too soon was my friend Kelly Smith, who died at the age of 31 after her chemo was stopped during lockdown.

Today, her parents Mandy and Craig Russell are launching a petition calling on the powers that be to get treatment and diagnosis back up and running now.

Craig and Mandy told me: " We want to stop other families having to endure the kind of loss that we are suffering.

"We believe that Kelly’s  death was in large part attributable to the impact of Covid on cancer services."

Joining forces with Radiotherapy4Life and The Sun, the Catch Up With Cancer campaign is demanding a massive drive to boost radiotherapy to help deal with the backlog.

My pal Kelly was taken too soon

When Sars-CoV-2 reared its ugly head, cancer care stopped.

Screening, diagnosis, tests, scans, operations, chemo, radiotherapy and drug trials were all put on hold.

I was one of the lucky ones, I was able to have radiotherapy during lockdown.

I wish these stories were the exception, the rare ones. But they’re not.

But I’ve seen friends including Kelly die. And I’ve been inundated with messages from strangers saying their loved ones have died, their treatment has stopped, their tests cancelled.

I spoke to one lady who was diagnosed with lung cancer in March, and doctors told her she needed radiotherapy and chemo.

Then lockdown happened, and they couldn’t give her any treatment.

Now, after having a follow-up scan to decide treatment plans, she’s been told her cancer has spread and there is nothing more they can do for her.

I wish these stories were the exception, the rare ones. But they’re not.

Scale of cancer crisis is catastophic

It’s rare that I am lost for words, but the scale of the crisis we are facing when it comes to cancer care is catastrophic.

The Government’s response to coronavirus shows we can all pull together to act, to combat a common enemy.

Now they need to recognise this national tragedy unfolding in front of their eyes.

Their plans seem to revolve around cancer services being up and running again by the end of the year - that is simply not good enough.

It is not OK to sit back and let cancer patients die.

Three million patients affected

Cancer Research UK figures suggest that 3million Brits have been affected, with 2.7million screening appointments for breast, bowel and cervical cancers missed.

In April, urgent cancer referrals - that’s where someone with a worrying symptom is sent to see a specialist - plummeted 60 per cent, compared to last April.

In May they fell by 47 per cent, while breast cancer urgent referrals dropped 66 per cent, according to the latest figures from NHS England, published yesterday.

NHS England data shows delays for cancer treatment in May were the worst on record, with more than three in ten patients still waiting to start therapy more than two months after being referred by their GP.

Just 70 per cent of people were treated in this time - the lowest figure since records began.

Meanwhile, CRUK estimates that around 301,000 fewer people have been seen by a specialist, while 33,000 cancer treatments have been missed.

Early diagnosis saves lives

What does it all mean?

Thousands of people have had their cancer diagnosis delayed - and delays cost lives.

Many of these are deaths that could be avoided and it’s simply not good enough.

No one thing will fix this, but cancer patients deserve a plan.

We need to get cancer diagnosis and treatment back up and running now.

We need to boost radiotherapy to deal with the mounting backlog of patients needing care.

'This has to stop'

Professor Pat Price, chair of Action Radiotherapy and founder of Radiotherapy4Life told me: “Our efforts to fight this cancer backlog must start now.

“Radiotherapy must be at the heart of that fight.

“Without the investment and energy backed by a proper urgent recovery plan, more patients will die unnecessarily. This has to stop.”

Mandy and Craig added: "We are calling on the Government and senior NHS leaders to take urgent action to prevent this national tragedy. 

"We are concerned that the aspiration of the NHS seems limited to getting services up and running fully  by the end of the year. 

"That’s just too late.  Every day that goes by without urgent action patients will die unnecessarily."

As well as action from on high we all need to do what we can to:

This cancer crisis is real and it’s not going away. The longer we ignore it, the more people will die.

I am terrified by the apparent lack of urgency in jumping in to put a plan in place.

NHS staff are working tirelessly on the front line and have been for months, this is not a criticism of their work.

This is a wider, systemic issue that needs addressing and resourcing from on high.

Thousands have cancer but don't yet know - it's scary

We need more staff to address the capacity crisis, and we need to see action now.

Right now, chances are there are thousands of Brits walking around completely oblivious to the fact they have cancer.

It’s growing somewhere deep inside, and while some will have noticed symptoms, others are ignoring them.

Sounds scary? Well, it’s meant to.

One in two people will get cancer, around 500 lives are lost to the disease every day - that’s around 165,000 lives lost every year.

This is something that affects us all, and we must all rally together to make change happen.

The last few months have been a nightmare, but we must not take our eye off the ball.

It’s time for action - to flatten the cancer curve, and now. Thousands of lives are at stake.

To sign the petition visit Change.org here

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