UK Pandemic’s Forgotten Patients

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Once covid had really started, and we received our daily dose of Boris Johnson and his clowns, pretending to know what to do, I think we all realised we were in trouble! These people have proved before, and since, how absolutely inept they are at ANYTHING, other than lining their own pockets. My real anger, has always been the medical and scientific experts.

Any idiot could see, that if you left almost every other medical condition alone, to totally focus on covid, we would be heading into even bigger trouble. Hence we now have record waiting lists today. Of course Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance, Jennie Harries and Jonathan Van Tam, amongst others, where wheeled out also to give the meetings some credence. However it was blatantly obvious they were just governmental puppets, waiting for their pension and awards to come. Never daring to speak out of line.

Now we are listening to the covid enquiry, where of course, everyone is blaming each other, but the clinicians particularly talking about what a circus the Government was at that time. To me, they are equally to blame, for going along with things and not speaking out of line or resigning. The most they could do was sending internal Whatsapp messages! These people were responsible for the entire health of our nation, not just the covid part. They did not do that successfully. Now of course they have all been honoured for their silence, and can sail off into the sunset hiding behind our inept politicians. In this piece I have tried to imagine if things had been done differently and cancer had been given the priority it absolutely deserved.

As the United Kingdom endured repeated COVID-19 waves from 2020 onward, the National Health Service (NHS) faced unrelenting strain trying to meet surging demand. Limited intensive care beds, scarce protective equipment in early months, and sheer patient influxes forced heart breaking crisis rationing decisions. But in diverting resources toward pandemic frontlines, did the UK inadvertently leave its defences too vulnerable against other major health threats like cancer? Reports have emerged of nearly 60,000 UK cancer patients now stuck on growing waiting lists for vital treatment while battling disease progression. So could – or should – cancer care have been more prioritized throughout COVID-19 response?

Why Cancer Care Faltered During the COVID-19 Pandemic

From the pandemic’s outset, cancer experts sounded alarms about collateral damage to cancer outcomes as stretched healthcare systems rationed non-emergency resources. These projections, unfortunately proved accurate in the UK. Routine cancer screenings were temporarily suspended during lockdown periods, as staff and facility capacity defected to virus response. Meanwhile, diagnostic workups, surveillance scans, biopsies and ambulance services were delayed. The NHS postponed over 30,000 surgeries just through June 2020. These care delays, on top of patients avoiding help-seeking, led predictably to more UK cancer cases progressing to later, deadlier stages before getting addressed. A phenomenon, already linked to thousands of preventable deaths. Oncologists report even blood cancer maintenance infusions were interrupted, risking disease relapse.

The Costs of Neglecting a Relentless Threat

Cancer’s ruthless march shows no leniency during viral outbreaks after all. Before COVID-19 hit, cancer was claiming over 165,000 UK lives every year, exerting perpetual pressure on NHS human and material resources. Pandemic diversion only intensified this strain exponentially. Now the NHS faces a long road working through the backlog, as many cancer patients require multimodal care. And if survival improvements stagnate, after years of progress, mortality rates may worsen, with socioeconomically disadvantaged groups impacted most severely. Of course, the reality was that no area of healthcare was fully insulated from COVID’s omnipresent disruptions, given such an overmatched health system. But perhaps pockets of cancer care could have seen extra safeguarding. If not for patients’ wellbeing, then for the UK’s post-pandemic recovery outlook.

The Case for Prioritizing Cancer Care in Pandemic Planning

Preserving cancer care capacity as much possible, could have granted wider societal dividends that policymakers might consider for future crises. For one, catching diagnoses sooner and preventing treatment delays, can allow some patients to maintain workplace productivity and spending power. Secondly, with workforce shortages plaguing current NHS recovery, retaining more cancer specialty personnel through pandemic waves, could alleviate bottlenecks today. Many experienced employees regretfully exited jobs, from burnout and emotional trauma. Lastly, consistent public communication about sustaining urgent cancer diagnostics and emergency tumour services, might have encouraged sicker patients to keep seeking help. Allowing cancers to become late-stage essentially meant shifting the brunt of that cost and capacity absorption, down the road.

Balancing Health System Priorities Now and Beyond

Of course, medical teams executed remarkable, systematic pandemic crisis management given the unprecedented circumstances. Cancer prioritization arguments imply no criticism of government efforts to support the NHS. But the pandemic laid bare the UK’s healthcare resource fragility. As population aging accelerates cancer prevalence, today’s treatment delays could snowball into future calamity without due urgency. Both rebuilding resilient surge capacity and propelling cancer progress need featuring centrally in the UK’s post-COVID healthcare vision. None of the decisions confronting policy experts, have carried easy solutions these past few years. Yet the nation’s health depends on accounting for all disease threats straining the system – both acute infections and prolific killers like cancer warranting equal vigilance. Healing from the pandemic era first compels learning astute lessons to fortify national protection for whatever public threat lurks around history’s next bend.

As always, these are my personal opinions based on my experiences. Please feel free to share your own opinions below.

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