Professor Karol Sikora

Covid-19 kills – but so does lockdown

Covid-19 kills – but so does lockdown
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Just over six months ago Boris Johnson gave the British people one very clear instruction: ‘you must stay at home.’ It was impossible for anybody to anticipate the unintended consequences of those five words and quite how much pain and anguish they would unleash.

Through a mixture of emotional coercion and relentless scaremongering millions of people in need of medical help followed the PM’s order to the letter. They stayed, many in intense pain, at home and didn’t seek the care they needed.

Every Tuesday morning the Office for National Statistics release their weekly information on deaths. For months it has told the same story. Significant, sustained levels of excess deaths are happening in the home every week.

There are repetitive and draining discussions about grand strategies wherever you look. But thousands more than usual are dying in their own homes and nobody raises an eyebrow. To avoid any more unnecessary deaths, we must start asking difficult questions. We can’t be afraid of the answer. Covid-19 kills, but so does lockdown.

Politicians have been playing with forces that none of us fully understand. They claim to always be following ‘the science’, but let me assure you, there is no science behind effectively closing down cancer diagnostic pathways for 3 million people or delaying treatment for so many.

Heart attacks and strokes have dramatically reduced in number over the last six months. The only way this could have happened is that people have chosen to stay at home rather than seek medical care. Mental health has been relentlessly ignored along with other serious illnesses. Deprivation, depression, loneliness, and suicidal ideation continues to spread like wildfire. Dr David Nabarro, WHO special envoy, puts it eloquently: ‘lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.’

No computer model nor brilliant epidemiologist can fully estimate the sheer long-term destruction lockdowns have caused. I don’t think many have even bothered. Fear is a very difficult metric but if we could measure it with any precision, I’m sure all records would have been smashed this year.

Other countries have struck a far better balance than we have. Death has always been a taboo subject here and evidently our collective ability to balance risk has been severely inhibited.

Oncologists across the country, myself included, are seeing more and more patients come forward with symptoms which if dealt with earlier, could have been more effectively treated. After seeing terrifying graphs predicting 50,000 cases a day in weeks, would a young mother who found an unusual lump in her breast want to burden her GP or go to a perceived Covid-infested clinic? Would an elderly lady want to risk having a scan in hospital? If you demand people stay at home, don’t be surprised when they do exactly that. Meek attempts have been made to solve this by our politicians, but fear is just as contagious as the virus.

There are some very clever people in Downing Street, but they’re blind to what’s really going on. Well-heeled professionals with juicy public pay packets and pensions will never have to face the consequences of the policies they are imposing. They can survive another lockdown, but millions of people are now struggling just to keep their heads above the water.

I won’t have to face the brunt of it, but I refuse to condemn countless people who have no voice to years of economic misery. Excess deaths in the homes will continue, and ignorance will not be an excuse for the politicians who refused to act.

We know that many people have been genuinely too scared to seek help, but what about those who have? They’ve been met with obstacles every step of the way. I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the medical teams and their dedicated support staff. What they have done this year has been astounding, and I know many of them are as frustrated as I am.

Billions and billions of taxpayer money has been wasted on dodgy PPE, a failing Test and Trace system and other hare-brained Covid projects dreamt up in the No. 10 bunker. How much money has been siphoned into the coffers of the big consultancy groups?

Let’s not pretend there’s any semblance of sound financial control when it comes to the virus. So why isn’t usual healthcare given everything they need to get all care services moving?

Too often the debate is framed as either Covid or cancer. If it chose to, government has the resources and the funding to deal with not only protecting those at risk from the virus, but also tackling every other disease which have killed far more than the virus ever will.

We’ve proven that this country is capable of extraordinary feats. Let’s build the facilities, hire the staff, test the workers. The solutions are there if we look for them, I find the defeatism from government so depressing. We turned the country upside down for the virus, let’s attack other health problems with the same ferocity.

These aren’t hypothetical models we’re dealing with – people are dying every day. More and more stories are emerging in the media of patients who have had vital cancer treatments delayed and their prognosis is now terminal.

Efforts are constantly made to downplay the problem by those who want further restrictions. Not once have I questioned the credentials or motives of those who believe lockdowns are the answer. But it’s a tactic many academics I once respected are far too happy to employ against those who believe a better balance is required.

I’m constantly told as an oncologist I should get back in my box and leave the number crunching to doom-laden epidemiologists. But you don’t need to have great statistical knowledge to see the damage lockdowns are causing. This is not just an epidemiological crisis – no corner of our lives has gone untouched.

The full consequences of lockdowns haven’t been properly considered by those who claim to have the answers. If a wider range of voices had been considered from the start, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the utter mess we’re in.

This is not an argument for a fundamental shift in strategy, those debates have been had. This is a plea for more balance.

Many seriously ill people stayed at home, they protected the NHS, but it didn’t save their lives.