28,000 Londoners with cancer (13%) have barely left the house because they’re scared to do so
Macmillan Cancer Support is warning of the devastating impact coronavirus is having on the physical and mental health of people with cancer in the capital as they face the two ‘deadly Cs’ all at once and is urging those struggling with lockdown to contact its support line service.
New research by the charity reveals for the first time the scale of fear and anxiety tens of thousands of people in the London area are facing as they deal with both the threat of cancer and Covid-19.
The results show a staggering one in three (35%) people with cancer in London – around 74,000 people – are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed as a result of the lockdown. This is almost a third higher than the average for people with cancer in England (27%). One in six (17%) – around 35,000 – have seen their mental health worsen due to the pandemic.
Around 28,000 Londoners with cancer (13%) have barely left the house because they’re scared about catching the virus or generally scared/anxious about leaving the house. A shocking 18,000 (8%) have experienced panic or anxiety attacks because of the virus.
Macmillan is concerned that last week’s government announcement about how shielding will start to be phased out in England and Northern Ireland could add to people’s worries if they feel information is unclear or support could be taken away.
Around 11,000 people with cancer in London (5%) have not left the house at all since the start of lockdown and say they won’t feel safe enough to do so until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available, or when there are zero new cases of the virus being reported[vi].
Meanwhile, one in six (18%) have experienced a decline in their physical health during lockdown, including sleep problems (15%), fatigue or extreme tiredness (12%), or pain (7%)[vii]. Almost half (46%) have not taken any outdoor exercise at all[viii].
The latest research also suggests the number of people with cancer in the UK who have chosen to ‘shield’ at home is much higher than those deemed ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ to coronavirus. More than 700,000 people (24% of those with cancer) say they had not left the house other than for essential medical appointments during the first two stages of lockdown[ix]. This is almost three times as many as official estimates[x], and includes 40,000 of those with cancer in London. As of 15th June more than 400,0000 people with cancer in the UK (15%) had still not left the house despite the recent change to government guidance[xi].
At a time when the charity’s income faces a significant drop, Macmillan is doing everything it can to be there for people with cancer during the pandemic, who need it more than ever.
Its Telephone Buddies scheme matches volunteers with cancer patients so they can arrange to have regular chats with someone about what they’re going through, and its free Support Line and Online Community remain valuable sources of virtual support. It has also launched an emergency fundraising appeal, in a bid to ensure it can continue to fund services and provide cancer care and support now and in the future.
Macmillan is also calling for UK Governments to prioritise the mental and physical health of people living with cancer by publishing a recovery plan for cancer services. This must include the allocation of staffing and resources needed to deliver the safest possible care.
Stewart who is living with cancer in London said:
“The impact of coronavirus as someone who is in their 30s, disabled, living with chronic blood cancer, homeless and LGBT is a compound one.
“During shielding, the loneliness was a real problem. I was grateful to have had three friends on rotation that stood down the hallway when they came to help me with my laundry and post. Those were the only people I saw.
“And now, as the government continues to roll out guidance for increased sociability and a path out of lockdown, in the absence of a vaccine and discussions of potentially never finding one, it is hard to know what my life will look like through and out the lockdown and for the years to come.
“The questions remain as does the uncertainty, anxiety and fear. How can I safely get to my specialist when I don’t have a car? How long will it be before I can travel to see family? When will I be able to hug a friend or even be in the same room as them? The way things are looking, the loneliness is long-term.”
Lynda Thomas, CEO at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“For many people it is more frightening to be diagnosed with cancer now than during any other time in recent history. On top of the impact of a cancer diagnosis, patients now feel lost in lockdown. They are having to contend with uncertainty around treatment, shielding restrictions and isolation from loved ones, as well as concerns about their increased risk of contracting the virus.
“We’re doing everything we can to be there for people with cancer and want to encourage anyone who is struggling with the emotional and physical impacts of lockdown to get in touch with the Macmillan support line. But sadly, we can only make sure that no one faces cancer alone with the public’s support. We want to make sure cancer doesn’t become the forgotten ‘C’ during this pandemic – please donate to Macmillan today.”
As well as the toll that lockdown is taking, the charity has warned about the impact of delays and disruption to cancer care as a result of coronavirus. Macmillan has urged UK governments to urgently deliver cancer service recovery plans to get treatment back on track and to meet the mental and physical health needs of people living with cancer. The charity is calling for prioritisation of NHS staffing and resources to deliver the safest possible care and catch up on delayed treatment; as well as calling on governments to ensure support for cancer patients’ holistic physical and mental health isn’t forgotten because of the pandemic.