Professor Angus Dalgleish has seen two of his colleagues take their own lives, he says one of them ‘killed himself as a result of profound despair at the loneliness and anxiety created by Covid’
As a cancer specialist for more than 30 years, I have dealt with many young adults who have died before their time.
But nothing could have prepared me for the events of the past two weeks.
On Monday, I joined a Zoom meeting with a colleague who told me that another participant, a highly respected research assistant, would not be joining us.
Tragically, he had committed suicide. It subsequently emerged that he had hanged himself in his bedsit.
Lockdown and Covid restrictions had left him feeling isolated and broken by the loss of normal human interaction.
The news came as a terrible shock — but his is not the only suicide that has touched my life in the past fortnight.
I was also shaken when another colleague, whom I have known since we were young doctors, killed himself as a result of profound despair at the loneliness and anxiety created by Covid.
As far as I am aware, he had no history of mental illness, nor was he undertaking treatment for depression, but it is clear he became overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as the pandemic dragged on.
These two cases provide a graphic illustration of the lethal impact of this disease that goes far beyond the physical harm caused by the virus itself.
Our society has been thrown into turmoil, our economy paralysed.
And there is no sign of a return to normality any time soon.
Indeed, just the opposite is true, as the institutions of the State indulge in ever greater fear-mongering and repression. In response to a rising rate of infections and hospital admissions, the Scottish Government has imposed draconian restrictions on the hospitality trade, while in London the Tory Cabinet considers a massive extension of local lockdowns across northern England from Monday.
Such measures may not stem the tide of contagion, but they will certainly lead to more business failures, mass unemployment, public distress and fractured lives.
I view the official Covid strategy with mounting alarm. As our nation stares into the abyss of unprecedented recession and social dislocation, the supposed cure is indeed turning out to be far worse than the disease.
I have become acutely aware that the widespread deterioration in mental health is exposed not only by the incidence of suicides, but by the worrying signs of anxiety in friends’ children, who are unable to mix in the usual way and are subjected to a barrage of warnings about the endless dangers they face.
Similarly, in my work as an oncologist, I see daily how the relentless focus on Covid is distorting healthcare priorities and undermining treatment.
With towns and cities across the country facing local lockdown, including Manchetester, Prof Dalgleish fears ‘the supposed cure is indeed turning out to be far worse than the disease’
Vital consultations are delayed, operations deferred. The effect of coronavirus means rationing has now been imposed on an epic scale.
Only on Thursday it was revealed that 110,000 patients have now been waiting for more than a year — the highest total since records began — to begin treatment, as a result of the loss of hospital capacity due to Covid.
We are meant to have a National Health Service but, increasingly, it is a National Covid Service.
This is a disaster, particularly in my field of cancer where early detection can mean the difference between living and dying.
Thanks to remarkable advances in medicine and surgery, survival rates have soared for cancer patients who receive treatment in time.
But because of Covid, those gains could soon be lost as patients are forced to wait.
My fellow oncologist Professor Karol Sikora has rightly pointed out in this newspaper that more than 35,000 British people with cancer could die prematurely because of delays in screening and diagnosis. I know of one patient with colon cancer — a condition that is reassuringly curable in its early stages — whose operation has been continually delayed because of Covid pressures. Sadly, the cancer has metastasised and he is now in the terminal stages of the disease.
This nightmare is compounded by the current difficulties in securing face-toface GP appointments where symptoms can be properly discussed and examined. The 33-year-old nephew of a patient of mine had a sore throat, severe weight loss and a lump on his neck.
Yet after a telephone consultation with his GP, he was prescribed antibiotics. When the symptoms worsened, he was advised, over the phone, to take stronger antibiotics.
He died soon afterwards — from lymphoma, a cancer of cells of the immune system.
The truth is that the health of the country is being compromised by the Government’s deeply flawed response to Covid.
Apocalyptic propaganda about the virus has terrified millions into staying away from hospitals or GPs, while too many general practices are using the pandemic to limit face-to-face consultations with patients.
Screening programmes have been curtailed, while child vaccination rates are falling, and those for cardiovascular disease rising.
And the malaise extends far beyond healthcare. Vast swathes of the economy are on the verge of collapse because of excessive Covid regulations, from aviation to the arts and the travel industry, from High Street retailing to the pub and restaurant trade.
Some commentators argue health must come before commerce but that is a delusion.
The destruction of the economy will inevitably wreck the nation’s health further, not only because the misery of poverty, joblessness and insecurity drive physical and mental decline, but because the NHS is dependent on tax revenues. Empty public coffers are bound to lead next to unmanned wards and understaffed clinics. What makes the Government’s heavy – handed approach even worse is that it is not even working on its own terms.
The effects of Covid-19 have caused businesses to close down, as lockdown left our economy paralysed
Most of the recent lockdowns across the North of England have done nothing to stem the second wave of infections. In Bury, there were 20 cases per 100,000 people, a figure that has soared since the new lockdown to 266.
In nearby Bolton the increase is even more striking, up from 21 cases per 100,000 before lockdown to 434 now.
The distinctly un-British loss of civil liberties, imposition of curfews, huge criminal fines without trial and encouragement to sneak on neighbours are achieving nothing except to turn this country into a modern version of East Germany under Soviet control, complete with economic decline, institutionalised bullying by the state and widespread suspicion.
We now have the worst of all words: authoritarianism accompanied by amateurism. The sense of national breakdown has been exacerbated by the Government’s lengthening catalogue of spectacular incompetence.
It is epitomised by the scandal over the supply of PPE, on which an incredible £15billion has been spent, and the serial failures of the £12billion test and trace regime, presided over by disaster-prone peer Dido Harding, who appears to owe her appointment more to political favouritism than executive competence.
More money was wasted in the NHS on boosting supplies of intensive-care ventilators, which turned out to be almost as dangerous as the virus itself, and on the vast Nightingale hospitals, which remained largely unused.
Indeed, reckless profligacy has characterised the Government’s whole Covid strategy, making a mockery of the previous decade of austerity and of the Tories’ claim to be the party of fiscal restraint.
Prof Dalgleish said the covid restrictions have resulted in a ‘widespread deterioration in mental healt’. Pictured, file photo
Last week, the National Audit Office declared no less than £26billion — more than twice the annual policing budget — may have been fraudulently claimed in Covid business-support applications.
Future generations will be paying for this folly for years to come. Yet all this damage — to health, freedom, the economy, public finances and social interdependence — has been inflicted in the face of a strictly limited threat.
Despite the hysterical talk from ministers and the lurid predictions from modellers such as the notorious Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College epidemiologist and the enthusiast for mass lockdowns, coronavirus is not a deadly plague in our midst.
Yes, every death from the disease is a cause for personal grief, but the human race is not immortal.
We all have to die of something at some stage. The fact is that the vast majority of the public are at no morbid risk at all from Covid.
It is the elderly and those with underlying health problems who are in danger.
More than 97 per cent of Covid deaths in this country have occurred among the over-65s — the average age of death for Covid patients being 82.4 — and mortality is in drastic decline thanks to greater understanding of the disease and improvements in drug treatment.
Even with the recent increase in hospital admissions, the current death rate is just 5 per cent of the spring peak. ,
Over 80 per cent of those who contract the virus display no symptoms at all.
Today, someone under 30 has more chance of being struck by lightning than of dying from Covid, while someone aged 50 is more likely to die in a road accident.
During the first wave, a lot of media attention was focused on the few rare coronavirus deaths among young people, with the implication that the virus was an indiscriminate killer. But this was more deceit, since all these young victims had other conditions.
Moreover, every year, several young people are killed by influenza, yet we do not bring the country to a halt as a consequence.
Our leaders need to develop a sense of perspective about Covid, something that has been lacking so far.
Because of the absence of proportion about the real menace we face, we are paying a terrible price for further lockdowns through neglected healthcare, shattered social relations, mass deprivation and soaring public debt.
My concern about present policy led me to become one of the founding signatories on the Great Barrington Declaration.
Blackpool’s streets remain empty as the hospitality industry was hit by curfews, but has it all been worth it, or has lockdown ‘shattered social relations’ as Prof Dalgleish writes?
Named after a town in Massachusetts, USA, this initiative by scientists and medical experts aims to provide an alternative, more humane approach that recognises the collateral damage from the current restrictions.
Central to the Barrington case is the belief that, while the elderly and vulnerable should be shielded, the younger, working population should be allowed to return to something like normality, both to build up immunity in the community and regenerate the economy. In pursuing this goal, the Government should make far more imaginative use of medical innovations as a barrier against the disease rather than resorting to the ineffectual Cromwellian tactics of lockdown and lectures.
That means, for example, encouraging the consumption of vitamin D, which has proven benefits in promoting immunity and halting inflammation.
In fact, there would have been far fewer Covid deaths in Britain if the Department of Health had concentrated on distributing vitamin D to the public rather than buying dangerous ventilators.
Soluble aspirins and alcoholic mouthwashes would also be far better weapons against Covid than more pub curfews and bans on households mingling.
In defence of its negative, repressive approach, ministers like to claim that they are ‘following the science’, but it is only a certain perverse brand of science that has them in its thrall: that peddled by Neil Ferguson and his acolytes, whose track record is distinctly chequered, as epitomised by the 2001 foot and mouth fiasco.
I have found that the institutional science establishment is full of prejudice and hostile to anything that departs from the officially approved doctrine.
When I have gone to them with new ideas, such as an agent derived from the BCG vaccine that used to be universally deployed in this country against tuberculosis, they have been utterly dismissive, bleating about a ‘lack of evidence’ despite highly promising results in trials that showed marked enhancements in immune systems.
In any case, there is a now a mountain of evidence that their strategy is not working.
We now live in a land where students are locked up on campus like prisoners, where businesses are ruined by state edict, where grandparents are banned from hugging their grandchildren and where train passengers are fined for failing to wear masks — all in the name of containing a virus that does not kill 99.9 per cent of its victims.
Yet the virus continues to spread.
It is high time the Government pursued an approach which puts the real public interest before failing dogma.
If you are affected by the issues raised in this essay about depression and suicide, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit samaritans.org