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BBC podcast presenter Deborah James admits she’s ‘really angry’ at high levels of vaccine sceptics

Deborah James has revealed how she was ‘ignored’ by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock after writing to them with concerns over cancer care during the pandemic. 

The mother-of-two, 39, who presents the Radio 5 Live podcast ‘You, me and the Big C’, told Femail she reached out to the politicians with concerns, after it was revealed an estimated three million people had missed cancer screenings in October 2020. 

While she praised the quick work of the government during the vaccine rollout, she fears the inevitable ‘tsunami wave’ of cancer patients seeking treatment after June 21st will be overwhelming. 

Confessing she feels like a ‘broken record’ when it comes to cancer care, she urged the government to give equal attention to both the roll out, and the unavoidable backlog of cancer patients in the coming months.  

Deborah James, pictured at her London home, has revealed how she was ‘ignored’ by by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock after writing to them with concerns over cancer care during the pandemic

‘It feels like people are talking about it, but there’s no action,’ said Deborah. ‘It’s like yes we know, we know. I feel like a of a broken record. 

‘I feel like a year ago I was like, okay we need to lockdown quickly but mainly because I could already see it impacting on cancer care. 

‘I remember speaking to my oncologist about the impact it would have on cancer care and then I did a Panorama about it and have been writing about it every single week and I feel like, I can’t see anything happening.’  

It was revealed in December last year that Cancer research UK had to cut its research funding by £45 million due to the effects of the pandemic, on top of the £44 million cut made to current grants at the start of the crisis. 

The mother-of-two, 39, who presents the Radio 5 Live podcast 'You, me and the Big C', received her first dose of the vaccine in January at London's Royal Marsden Hospital

The mother-of-two, 39, who presents the Radio 5 Live podcast ‘You, me and the Big C’, received her first dose of the vaccine in January at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital

It was reported yesterday that nearly 11,000 people in the UK could be living with breast cancer that has not yet been diagnosed, due to the disruption caused by the pandemic  – and Deborah says this is being repeated ‘across the board’. 

‘The reason is the message “Protect the NHS” was heard so clearly that people are not coming forward’, said Deborah. ‘People are not presenting because they think they have Covid. 

‘As a cancer campaigner, what worries me most about June 21st, or any day between then and now, is people assume when Covid is over our problems are solved.  

‘The biggest concern is that actually the backlog of things coming in… We’re not going to see that now but we are going to see a tsunami wave coming through. We need the commitment from the government.’ 

In an interview with Femail, the BBC podcast host admitted it makes her 'really angry' to think of the number of sceptics declining inoculation

In an interview with Femail, the BBC podcast host admitted it makes her ‘really angry’ to think of the number of sceptics declining inoculation

Now she's been vaccinated, Deborah has returned home to her husband Sebastien Bowen and their two children Eloise, 11 (pictured) and Hugo, 13- after living with her parents for a month while shielding ahead of her operation

Now she’s been vaccinated, Deborah has returned home to her husband Sebastien Bowen and their two children Eloise, 11 (pictured) and Hugo, 13- after living with her parents for a month while shielding ahead of her operation

Despite her fears about a backlog of cancer patients, Deborah revealed how her Covid-19 vaccination gave her ‘hope’ as she urged others to act on their ‘collective duty as a society’ and get their jab. 

She received her first dose of the vaccine in January at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, seeing ‘no reason’ for the majority to refuse their own.  

‘I think it definitely gave me hope’, she said of receiving her dose, ‘I felt really emotional actually having the vaccine and I think the whole setup was incredible.’  

The mum admitted it makes her ‘really angry’ to think of the number of sceptics declining inoculation because of misinformation surrounding the jab. 

Deborah – who is living with incurable stage 4 bowel cancer – is currently working with Team Halo, an initiative bringing together more than 50 scientists from across the world to tackle myths about the vaccine.

With growing numbers of Brits suspicious of the jab, Deborah believes the concerns of sceptics have to be acknowledged, and that we need to ‘educate and explain’ rather than ignore the fears.    

‘I see no reason medically, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t see any reason people should be refusing the vaccine’, said Deborah. ‘I actually think it’s a duty we have as a collective society we have to take the vaccine.’ 

Deborah says she has noticed an improvement in cancer services throughout the third national lockdown, and is actively undergoing cancer treatment following an intensive operation to remove a new growth in November.     

The presenter has a specific type of bowel cancer called BRAF mutation, and started a new combination of chemotherapy drugs – which include Braftovi – in August 2019. 

‘I’m just ploughing on as I’ve been on my same treatment for the last two years’, said Deborah. 

‘I don’t know whether I’m cancer free because I haven’t had scans, but even if I was it wouldn’t matter because I couldn’t change anything and if I had a new thing we’d probably just plough on anyway.’ 

Deborah says she has noticed an improvement in cancer services throughout the third national lockdown, and is actively undergoing treatment following an intensive operation

Deborah says she has noticed an improvement in cancer services throughout the third national lockdown, and is actively undergoing treatment following an intensive operation

The suite of ground-breaking drugs, pioneered by Dutch cancer researcher René Bernards, have been approved for use across the NHS, and Deborah was one of the patients who sat on the NICE committee for the decision.

Approval by drugs regulators means about 1,400 advanced bowel cancer patients will now get the Braftovi combination. 

‘I’m still on that treatment’, said Deborah, ‘It’s essentially like keeping a lid on it and it might mean that sometimes things pop up again, until it doesn’t work anymore, which might happen, I just hope not yet.’  

Throughout the pandemic Deborah has grown tired of lockdown sceptics telling vulnerable people to shield away to protect themselves, feeling it’s ‘all good and well when you’re on the other side of the fence’. 

‘I’m not preachy or righteous, but at the same time, people who are saying that, I guarantee that would not be saying that if their loved ones needed a bed or told them they have cancer tomorrow.’

She went on: ‘I’m not a medic or a politician, but I’m someone who receives care from the NHS every single week. When I speak to healthcare professionals it’s really obvious that it’s not just about Covid. It’s actually to do with protecting it for all services. 

‘So unless you think you’re not going to get run over or your child doesn’t need A&E or you’re not going to get cancer – then wow you must be lucky to predict what’s going to happen in life. That’s what is amazing about the NHS, we don’t value people.’  

The presenter has a specific type of bowel cancer called BRAF mutation, and started a new combination of chemotherapy drugs in August 2019

The presenter has a specific type of bowel cancer called BRAF mutation, and started a new combination of chemotherapy drugs in August 2019 

One incident in which similar views seemed apparent was during an episode of BBC’s Big Questions in January, where former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption appeared to tell Deborah that her life was ‘less valuable’ than others.

Anti-lockdown figurehead Jonathan Sumption was discussing the cost of lockdown on the show and said he believed his children’s and grandchildren’s lives were worth more than his ‘because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead’.

The pair have since agreed to disagree over email after Sumption claimed publicly the comments were ‘taken out of context’ and apologised personally to Deborah if she ‘misinterpreted’ his comments.  

But Deborah says she’s ‘pretty robust’ and is pleased that the segment created a debate about cancer care during the pandemic.   

‘I think the reality is we shouldn’t be valuing lives and I think Captain Tom showed us this’, said Deborah. 

‘If we go around thinking our lives are less valuable than each others then could you imagine what that does for our mental health, which we know at the moment is one of our largest challenges. 

‘If you’ve walked around and thought “hang on my life is less valuable because I have cancer”, I think we can’t function like that as a society. I think it’s a really dangerous road to be going down’.  

Now she’s been vaccinated, Deborah has returned home to her husband Sebastien Bowen and their two children Eloise, 11 and Hugo, 13- after living with her parents for a month while shielding ahead of her operation.   

Deborah, pictured at home with daughter Eloise, says she's loved the chance to see her two children grow up during lockdown

Deborah, pictured at home with daughter Eloise, says she’s loved the chance to see her two children grow up during lockdown  

‘Weirdly, we’ve all quite enjoyed lockdown’, she said, ‘We’ve actually had a really lovely time together and that sounds really awful to say that, I appreciate it’s been a real struggle for a lot of people and I’m aware a lot of people found it incredibly hard.

‘It’s that I’ve had the chance to spend almost a year with my children – yes I’ve been working and then I was allowed safely back on the road to film – but I’ve seen my kids grow up. 

‘I’ve seen my boy become a teenager and my daughter grow up and I don’t think I will ever have the opportunity to do that again, I don’t think any of us will.’  

Deborah is backing a thortful Mother’s Day campaign celebrating ‘The Mother of the Nation’, the NHS – which she says acted as a maternal figure to her when she was forced to visit the hospital alone.  

The campaign sees 5p of every card purchased from the online card company, and £5 of every rainbow bouquet, donated to NHS Charities Together (NHSCT) which provides funds and support to frontline workers and their families.  

The target is to raise £110,000 but the company hopes to exceed this, so far raising so far raised £67,000 towards their target.    

‘The NHS has absolutely been like a mother to me, she said, ‘Obviously I love my own mum very much, My mum has also been incredible to me this year. I had an operation before Christmas, I had to go and live with my parents. 

Deborah is backing a Thortful Mother’s Day campaign celebrating 'The Mother of the Nation', the NHS - which she says acted as a maternal figure to her during the pandemic

Deborah is backing a Thortful Mother’s Day campaign celebrating ‘The Mother of the Nation’, the NHS – which she says acted as a maternal figure to her during the pandemic 

‘My mum and my dad have literally been putting my back together, but obviously in the hospital nobody can come with you. 

‘So the NHS have been there at 3 o’clock in the morning when we’re all really scared and we need them the most. They have absolutely been like the mother of the nation.’ 

As for life once lockdown is over, Deborah feels both excited to party – sharing her ‘pipe dream’ of dancing in sequins at an Ibiza nightclub – and nervous about readjusting to normal life.  

‘For loads of people a year is a long time, it’s over a year. And I haven’t seen my friends for a year so I can’t wait to see people. 

‘I know Covid poses a big risk to myself and others in my situation, I could go back into the world being vaccinated and I’m incredibly grateful for that. 

‘I do hope people continue to be really respectful in terms of recognising it’s not just going to disappear overnight.’  


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