Time to learn from the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people with cancer

Thursday 29 April 2021

In my role as Chief Executive of Maggie’s I have been supporting people with cancer for 25 years through our network of centres, yet I have never seen such extreme distress as I have experienced during the pandemic.

The people I have spoken to are now facing a threefold psychological blow – the trauma of diagnosis, fear of treatment delays with possible worsened outcomes and the stress of isolation. I have heard from people who have more advanced cancers, worsened outcomes and potentially a shorter life expectancy because of the coronavirus.

It is now predicted that there could be as many as an additional 18,000 cancer deaths in the UK in the coming year and recent research has predicted that people are more likely to die from cancer now than 15 years ago.

These are shocking statistics that show just how important the psychological support we offer will be in the years to come as we deal with the ramifications of coronavirus. We know we will be supporting people through their stress, fear, anger and loneliness for a long time to come.

How we have supported people with cancer through the pandemic

In a year where so much has changed and so many people have had to adapt, I’ve never been prouder of Maggie’s, my team, all of those who volunteer with us and support us and all that we’ve been able to achieve.

With so many people with cancer spending most of the past year self-isolating and facing changes or delays to treatment, we have always been there. Our teams of professional staff rose to the challenge and moved to support people with cancer throughout the coronavirus crisis over the phone, email and online, alongside face to face appointments when possible within social distancing requirements. This allowed us to support people with cancer 239,000 times in 2020. A figure I’m incredibly proud of.

All of our centres have been inundated with calls from people with cancer realising they might die early with Covid-19; who couldn’t say a proper goodbye to their loved ones, knowing their last days may be spent stuck at home or in hospital, alone; who were devastated that clinical trials stopped to prioritise Covid-19 studies, and research was halted. Devastating and heartbreaking stories and people who have needed Maggie’s and our support more than ever before.

Where now?

The NHS now faces what is well regarded as the most challenging period in its history. The pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of cancer deaths and current estimates suggest that the backlog of people waiting for screening is 3 million, as less people visited their GP, and fewer referrals were made.

Maggie’s has played a vital role in supporting people with cancer. A role we hope will not be forgotten. I believe that the NHS now has a chance to adopt an integrated approach to care which includes both physical and mental health and that Maggie's centres can play a vital role in achieving these goals by supporting an integrated health system that addresses the wide range of needs of those living with cancer and their families.

Never has Maggie’s been needed more and I will be working hard to make sure that off the back of this incredibly difficult and challenging time we will be able to learn, grow and better support people with cancer and all the challenges they face, the emotional and psychological as well as the physical and practical.

How Maggie's can help

We're here in our centres, on the phone and by email if you have questions or to talk about the challenges of living alone when you have cancer.

Find your nearest Maggie's to get details of how to get in touch.

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