By Sadie Robinson
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Reduced cancer care could kill tens of thousands during the pandemic

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
Issue 2712
Vital services have been scaled back
Vital services have been scaled back (Pic: Stephen Dickter/Flickr)

Some 35,000 more people could die of cancer because of delays to diagnosis and treatment during the coronavirus crisis.

Previous estimates had predicted 18,000 “excess deaths”. 

Now scientists say the figure could be much higher.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the NHS, already struggling after years of privatisation and cuts, under huge pressure. 

As the service prioritises dealing with the virus, people with other serious health issues are pushed aside.

Two million routine screening tests for breast, bowel and cervical cancer have not taken place during the pandemic. 

Even urgent referrals and treatments have been delayed or cancelled.

Lawyer Mary Smith said the impact has been “really harrowing” for patients. “I’ve had people who have had chemo cancelled, young patients who have died,” she said. “We’re going to see a tsunami of cases.

“One oncologist told me even if we operated at 125 percent capacity, it would take us more than a year to clear the backlog.”

Scientists looked at data from eight hospital trusts and shared the findings with the BBC Panorama programme. 

They modelled different outcomes depending on how long it will take for services to get back to normal levels.

In the worst case scenario, 35,000 more people could die of cancer within a year.

The number of people visiting their GP and being referred for tests fell by 60 percent in April, according to NHS figures. 

GP Gary Marlowe said some people fear “coming near the NHS” because they are scared about contracting coronavirus.

By the end of May, rates for urgent cancer referrals were 45 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Clinical oncologist Pat Price told the Panorama programme that guidelines had advised people to delay and avoid radiotherapy in some circumstances. “It was a very high risk strategy,” she said.

“It has been safe to give radiotherapy during Covid-19, we know that now.”

More than 44,000 people have officially died from coronavirus in Britain. 

It’s a staggering figure. But it’s clear that the toll from the pandemic will go much wider than those who die from the disease.

Tory school plan risky for pupils and workers

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the Tory “plan” for getting children back into schools last week. 

This amounts to demanding that all children return in September with no plans for social distancing.

The “bubbles” of 15 children that are currently operating in many schools will end. Instead entire years—hundreds of students—will be treated as one “bubble”. 

According to the Tories, even the most vulnerable should return. 

“The risks to all staff will be mitigated significantly, including those who are extremely clinically vulnerable and clinically vulnerable,” the guidance says. And parents who refuse to send their children back face fines.

The Tories want more children to walk to school to avoid spreading the virus on public transport. But secondary school children typically travel up to three miles to school—and further in rural areas. A third rely on public transport or a school bus to get to school.

The Tory “plan” is a recipe for sending virus cases soaring. Their solution for getting children back to school is to pretend that, suddenly, the risks have disappeared. 

And the Tories also plan to wreck the education working class children get when they return. 

So students in state schools might have some subjects, such as art and music, removed so they can focus on Maths and English. 

Yet those in private schools will keep all their subjects. So children at state schools could study for just five or six GCSEs while those in posher schools get nine or ten

Workers, parents and trade unionists must keep insisting that children are not sent back until it is safe. And we need to fight to stop education for ordinary people being trashed.

‘Unnecessarily cruel’ Tory benefit sanctions restart

Disability campaigners are fighting against the return of sanctions for benefit claimants. 

Sanctions were temporarily paused during the coronavirus crisis—but this measure ended on 30 June. 

And as job centres reopen, vulnerable claimants could begin to be called to face to face appointments.

Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) activist Ellen Clifford told Socialist Worker, “Claimants are really concerned. The pandemic isn’t over and lots of disabled people still need to shield.

“Some people have already been invited to telephone appointments to show they are meeting their ‘claimant commitment’ to look for work. But the jobs aren’t available for people to look for. It seems unnecessarily cruel.” Universal Credit Alliance, Dpac and others staged an online rally last week in protest at the changes.

Dpac said removing people’s benefits by sanctioning them will have “devastating effects” during the pandemic. It added that disabled people who claim Job Seekers Allowance are up to 53 percent more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled claimants.

Most stay away from pubs

The easing of the lockdown last Saturday did not lead to chaos on the streets as some pundits had predicted. 

Tory ministers explicitly encouraged people to visit their local pubs in the name of supporting businesses and jobs.

Yet two thirds of people say they are uncomfortable with the idea of going to pubs, according to an Ipsos-Mori poll last week.

And two thirds are also uneasy at the idea of taking a holiday abroad. The Tories want to ease the lockdown to get profits flowing again—regardless of the risks to ordinary people. 

But for all their propaganda, many people still don’t think it is safe to ease the lockdown.

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