Perhaps The three most deadly words in English are “Protect the NHS” and “Protect the NHS”. 

Now, after 18 months of being discouraged from going to hospital for treatment, the shocking results are starting to show.

The National Audit Office (NAO), in a report released this week, found that 740,000 possible cancer victims have not been identified since March 2020’s first lockdown.

These people should have been urgently referred to hospital for an investigation for a condition that exponentially increases the chance of death. 

The NAO believes that between 35,000 to 60,000 people started cancer treatment after the pandemic.

Untreated cancer kills. It is crucial to get a diagnosis quickly. It is possible that the death rate from delayed cancer diagnosis will be fourfold in a matter of years. 

Covid has created a huge backlog. NAO figures show 5.9 million people are now on an NHS waiting list — that’s one in 11 of the population.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) this week found that up to 740,000 potential cancer patients have been missed since the first lockdown in March 2020 (stock image)

This week’s National Audit Office report (NAO) revealed that potential patients with cancer have been missing since March 2020, when the initial lockdown was implemented (stock image).

This crisis will get worse. According to predictions, the waiting lists for healthcare will nearly double in four years and reach 12 million people by March 2025.

Three reasons exist. First, people were scared off the NHS partly because of those pernicious phrases that had been sung at the beginning of the pandemic.

Ignoring cancer symptoms and avoiding hospital appointments do the opposite of saving lives — they’re fatal.

The Whitehall sloganeers did not realize the power of their catchphrase, which I find astonishing. 

British are proud of their health care system. Many fear that if they called their GP, they might be deemed selfish, unresponsible, or even unpatriotic. 

That applies particularly to the older generation — those 60 and over, who are the ones most at risk from cancer.

A second issue was that GPs who had been difficult to reach became harder to get. Callers who did not make an appointment were denied access to surgeries.

Recorded messages urged patients to go away and call 111, to speak to operators in call centres who were paid £12 an hour to read responses from a computer screen.

The NAO estimates that, since the pandemic began, between 35,000 and 60,000 fewer people than expected have started treatment for cancer (stock image)

According to the NAO, 35,000-60,000 less people have begun treatment for cancer than was expected since the outbreak of pandemic (stock image).

I find it disgusting that so many surgeries are still unwelcoming to patients who don’t speak English. 

The Mail today revealed that the problem will only get worse as GPs are now required to suspend non-urgent work in order to boost Covid booster jabs.

Patients with diabetes, asthma and heart problems are the most vulnerable to not receive these routine checks.

As an oncologist, I see a third problem — one that is almost invisible to the public. Diagnostic procedures at hospitals have been slowing down due to covid protocols.

In the past, it was not uncommon for a colon specialist to visit 12 patients in one morning when he or she examined colon cancer symptoms. It’s a simple examination, if a trifle uncomfortable — a tube is inserted and a biopsy or tissue sample is snipped off for investigation under the microscope.

The introduction of strict Covid precautions means that the same specialist can now see up to four patients at once. 

The room must be cleaned between each procedure.

The restrictions are particularly harsh for the UK, as our hospitals had been severely behind European peers. France requires that patients reporting worrying signs, such as the coughing up of blood, within seven days, and often on the same date, receive scans.

In Britain, there will be a two-week wait while the GP refers the patient to hospital — and that first hospital visit is unlikely to involve a diagnostic examination. There isn’t enough capacity.

It is vital that early detection of cancer is done. There are more than 230 different types of cancer. The most prevalent ones include breast, colon, colon, and prostate.

They all share one thing in common. The survival rate is around 90% if they are captured before they spread.

This is Stage One cancer. Stage Two is when malignancy becomes more severe and recovery chances are less likely to be at 70%. 

Survival rates drop to 20% in stages 3 and 4. This is because cancerous cells have spread to lymph nodes and other organs. 

One in every two people in Britain is likely to get cancer, due to a variety of reasons including the aging population.

Consider this: Even if the disease is detected early in Stage One of the course, it is still likely that 10 percent will die.

NAO figures show 5.9m people are now on an NHS waiting list and it is predicted that waiting lists will double over the next four years, reaching 12m by March 2025 (stock image)

 NAO figures show 5.9m people are now on an NHS waiting list and it is predicted that waiting lists will double over the next four years, reaching 12m by March 2025 (stock image)

Consider cancer as Covid. Coronavirus, which has infected the entire world over the past year, is an awful disease. It has been associated with more than 150,000 deaths worldwide. Long Covid, the lingering symptoms, can cause severe pain and even death.

However, the death rate is much lower. According to a Cambridge University study, the survival rate of people who had received the double vaccine is much higher than 99.9%.

People who die early are more likely to be older. The average age of someone dying with Covid is 82 or more — about the same as the average age of death overall in this country.

These two diseases don’t even compare. It is frustrating and beyond belief to see cancer diagnosis so severely undermined by fears about a less fatal disease. 

It’s shocking to imagine that there might be as many as 60,000 people who ignore their cancer symptoms. That’s more than enough people to fill an entire Premier League football stadium. This alone ought to be cause for alarm in the nation.

This time, the government is doing it again. It has sparked panic in the nation about the Omicron Covid variant. 

Evidence suggests this virus, which is highly transmissible, has a lower chance of causing serious illness. Although it is easier to get, this virus will likely put less people into hospital.

That implies that Covid is behaving as predicted, and adapting to survive in the global human population, by causing persistent rather than catastrophic illness — just as flu and the common cold have done.

Because the infection is not contagious, many will be affected.

Cancer is a very different animal. Cancer doesn’t disappear by itself. It cannot be treated until the cause has been identified. This is why anyone with symptoms for longer than two weeks must have them examined. Do not be ashamed to raise a few eyebrows.

Don’t allow fearmongering over ‘protecting NHS’ distract you. This is your life. It is important to protect it.

Karol Sikora She is also a consultant oncologist at the University of Buckingham and teaches medicine at Buckingham Medical School.