London cancer patients urged not to suffer in silence amidst fears of “loneliness epidemic”


The capital’s cancer patients are being urged to seek help as a charity warns of a “loneliness epidemic”.

New research by Macmillan Cancer Support revealed more than 25,000 people with cancer in London (12% of the 210,000 total)[i] feel they have no one to talk to about their worries because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 34,000 people with cancer in London (16%) say they’ve been spending too much time alone, while more than 67,000 (32%) are stressed, anxious or depressed because of the coronavirus.

Macmillan Cancer Support is worried about the additional emotional burden facing people with cancer, many of whom have been isolating since lockdown began in March last year and some receiving diagnoses and bad news without friends or family around them.

At a time of extreme pressure on the NHS, Macmillan Cancer Support and stars including actor Daisy Edgar-Jones and Joanna Lumley have joined forces to tell people to contact the charity for help.

In a powerful video, celebrities including Davina McCall urge cancer patients and their families to get in touch with Macmillan rather than suffer in silence.

As well as helping ease some of the isolation and anxiety people with cancer are facing, Macmillan hopes its free Support Line, staffed by specially trained nurses and advisors, can play a key role in helping to alleviate some of the pressure on overstretched NHS healthcare professionals working in the current crisis.

Emma Tingley, Head of Partnerships for London and the South East, said: “We’re been getting an increasing number of calls from people with cancer who are struggling with isolation and experiencing very high anxiety levels who don’t have their usual support of family and friends around them. We’re worried cancer patients are facing a loneliness epidemic.

“At a time when healthcare staff are facing unprecedented challenges, we want people with cancer in London to know our cancer nurses, benefits advisors and other experts are just a phone call away. Peer support is also available 24-hours a day on our online community.

“Whether someone is worried about their treatment and shielding, or just wants someone to talk to, Macmillan is here for them. We also urge anyone with cancer concerns to contact their GP.”

The charity has already seen a surge in demand for support in London with several issues related to people’s medical care. There has been a 55% increase in the number of people contacting its helpline for the first time about pain and symptom management over the past six months, compared with the same time last year[ii]. There has also been a 10% increase in new requests for help or advice with accessing hospital or community care[iii].

Truck driver Mark Dingwall, 57, from Cricklewood, North West London, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019, and used Macmillan Cancer Support’s Telephone Buddies service last year during lockdown

He says: “I’m a very positive person, but when I was diagnosed with cancer it did knock me initially. I’d been going to the gym four times a week, and hadn’t seen the diagnosis coming.

“I’ve always been very chatty and like to talk, but I found I didn’t necessarily want to speak to all my family and friends about my cancer because I didn’t want them to worry or panic.

“That’s why using the Telephone Buddies service was so helpful. During lockdown, especially for those who live alone and were asked to shield like me, the loneliness could at times get a bit much, so it was nice to speak to someone who was neutral, who wouldn’t get upset, and was there to listen.

“Nobody should have to go through cancer alone, and just knowing someone was there at the end of the phone line to chat to was a lifeline.”