Panorama documentary highlights Britain’s cancer crisis

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Jul 6, 2020

Panorama documentary highlights Britain’s cancer crisis

A new Panorama documentary set to air tonight will highlight the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on cancer care

Coronavirus has killed thousands, but now there are fears that the pandemic has caused a crisis in healthcare, which could mean that many thousands more will die. The true cost of the lockdown could see many more lives lost to diseases like cancer.

According to a study conducted by DATA-CAN, the Health Care Research Hub (HDR UK) for Cancer, as many as two million routine appointments, including breast, bowel and cervical cancer screenings may have been missed throughout the Covid-19 crisis. During the peak of the crisis, urgent referrals fell by around 60%.

Medics said that many patients who should have seen their doctors over possible symptoms of cancer did not want to add to pressure on the NHS, while others were terrified of catching Covid.

Researchers examined data from eight hospital trusts, modelling outcomes dependant on how long the delays are likely to continue. As a result, it’s thought the Coronavirus pandemic could cause many excess cancer deaths within the next year, as a result of the wait for diagnosis and treatment.

Previous estimates predicted that the death toll could rise by 18,000. But experts are now warning that a worst-case scenario could see 35,000 more people dying of cancer by this time next year.

Reporter Deborah James has spent weeks investigating the issue for tonight's episode of BBC Panorama, ‘Britain's Cancer Crisis’. Deborah, who herself has incurable bowel cancer, investigates how the NHS has managed cancer care during lockdown, speaking to experts and analysing new research.

Deborah told The Sun: “We stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives. We flattened the Covid curve, but it's terrifying to see how cancer is likely to be the collateral damage.”

She also meets fellow patients, amongst them friends, to discover what the pandemic has meant for them. The episode features Deborah’s fellow You, Me and the Big C co-hosts, Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, as they explore the implications of Covid-19 on cancer treatment.

Deborah reveals that, for some, the consequences have been devastating.

“I have seen too many friends have their treatment stopped, operations cancelled and I have lost friends.”

“One of my best cancer pals, Kelly died a few weeks ago after her chemo was stopped due to Covid-19. She was 31, and mum to Finn.

“Kelly had incurable cancer, we knew that, but we will never know how much longer she could have had if Covid hadn't struck. That's what I can't get my head around.”

BBC Panorama has also teamed up with You, Me and the Big C to produce some special podcast episodes, which will run alongside the show, giving exclusive behind-the-scenes insights and in-depth stories.

BBC Panorama's 'Britain's Cancer Crisis' airs on Monday, July 6 at 7.30pm on BBC One.

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