Giant footprints appear on UK beach, representing tens of thousands of cancer patients at risk of becoming the ‘Forgotten C’ amid the coronavirus pandemic

Last month a series of almost 100 pairs of gigantic footsteps have filled a coastal bay in the seaside town of Scarborough, representing the tens of thousands of people in the UK who Macmillan Cancer Support estimates have not yet had their cancer diagnosed as a result of disruption to cancer services and fewer people seeking medical care during Covid-19.

The charity is releasing the powerful series of pictures and a film of the giant footprints being created and washed away at high tide, to represent the ongoing risk of cancer becoming the ‘Forgotten C’ amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 190 footprints — each measuring in at a colossal 6 metres in length and which took over 12 hours to carve — extended for over 1 kilometre across the length of Cayton Bay in Yorkshire.

Commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support, the striking installation was created to coincide with the publication of a new report by the leading cancer charity. The Forgotten C? The impact of Covid-19 on cancer care today reveals that as many as 50,000 people in the UK have cancer which has not yet been diagnosed because of the disruption caused by Covid-19[i].

Worryingly, the new report further reveals that the number of those with undiagnosed cancer could double by this time next year if cancer referrals and screening do not catch up. This would leave 100,000 people at risk of being diagnosed late and having a lower chance of survival[ii]. The charity is warning that the pandemic has created a backlog of undiagnosed cancer which could take a further 18 months just to tackle in England alone in a best-case scenario[iii].

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:

“These footprints represent the tens of thousands of people who are yet to hear the life-changing news that they have cancer, and those who are having their appointments disrupted once again. It is simply unacceptable if these people face unbearable and unprecedented delays which could see their hopes for the future washed away.

“Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid-19 and neither can our health services. Macmillan is doing whatever it takes to support people with cancer and our exhausted NHS staff, but we need more. Governments need to promise every person with cancer that they won’t be forgotten and ensure cancer services are protected, come what may.”

To prevent the situation worsening, Macmillan is calling on governments across the UK to guarantee that NHS cancer services will have ringfenced staffing and resources to keep running this winter — preventing redeployment of equipment, beds, or cancer nurses and clinicians; and guaranteeing access to the Covid testing and protective equipment needed. To clear the backlog, Macmillan has called for cancer service recovery plans to show how NHS services will get the additional resources needed to meet increased demand, and to boost support for burnt-out NHS cancer teams.

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