One in five people living with cancer in England say they will not be able to return to normal life on so-called “freedom day”, despite the success of the UK vaccine programme.

Out of an estimated 2.4 million people living with the condition in England, 21% said they could not enjoy day-to-day activities until new coronavirus cases had stopped being reported.

According to research done by Macmillan Cancer Support, 3% (around 70,000 people) said they did not think it would ever be safe for them to return to the way their life was before the pandemic.

It comes as the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England are lifted on Monday July 19, marking the return of major social freedoms.

Social distancing rules have been dropped along with limits on social gatherings, although mask-wearing in certain spaces, including supermarkets and on public transport, is still encouraged and will remain mandatory in some situations.

The Government has been criticised for the blanket easing by charities, including Macmillan, who have called for more to be done to support the clinically vulnerable.

A group of 37 experts, including some of the UK’s leading haematologists and immunologists, has issued a joint statement expressing concern that Government guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable is too broad to be useful for people with blood cancer.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan, said continuing basic infection prevention measures to help vulnerable people to feel more comfortable was “not that much to ask”.

“We have a bit of a double-whammy where people were already feeling very anxious and now with the rising cases again, combined with a lifting of restrictions… people are thinking ‘does this really make sense?’.

“It has made people feel even more anxious.

“The use of the word ‘freedom day’ makes it feel definitely not like freedom day and they’re feeling anything but free right now.

“We are asking members of the general public to respect the fact that there will be many clinically vulnerable people still in our society who will not be feeling safe.

“It’s not that much to ask.”

A survey of 2,156 adults with a previous cancer diagnosis, carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support and YouGov, found that many were worried about rising cases of the Delta variant and its impact on their safety.

More than one in four (29%) predicted they would still feel isolated from family, friends and their wider community, and almost one in three (31%) were concerned about new strains of the virus disrupting vaccine effectiveness.

Almost one in four (23%) thought it was unlikely the Covid-19 vaccination programme would allow life to return to normal.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Lara Montgomery and her wife Theresa, both of whom have been diagnosed with cancer, said a full easing of restrictions was “really frightening”.

“I think the terminology of ‘freedom day’ is awful, it just doesn’t capture the feeling of the whole country and I think for a lot of people… it’s not freedom day at all,” Lara told the PA news agency.

“I think people are just going to become too relaxed (and) the situation for people like ourselves… is going to become really frightening.

“We’re already talking now about how difficult it’s going to be for us, just going to the supermarket to do our shopping and who’s going to be wearing a mask and who won’t be.”

Another survey of 500 people, assessing the ongoing impact of the crisis on people with cancer, was undertaken by Macmillan and the University of Southampton.

It found that 81% had remained at home at all times during the pandemic, with over half (58%) reporting they had kept two metres away from the people they live with.

Of those who said they had not left their homes, almost half (45%) said they had experienced at least two serious psychological impacts from the pandemic, such as feeling afraid, depressed or helpless.

The charity estimates that due to disruption caused by the pandemic, the NHS in England would need to work at 110% capacity for 18 months to catch up on missing cancer diagnoses, and 14 months would be needed to clear the cancer treatment backlog.

Ms Thomas added: “This is about how people feel, but also what the reality is for some people who haven’t been vaccinated or don’t have such strong immunity.

“I think it’s very important that everybody understands what this means for everyone in society.

“It’s always worth remembering we don’t know who we’re standing next to in the queue in the supermarket, and we don’t know whether or not they are clinically vulnerable.

“They could be, so behave in a way that says ‘if I was in that position, this is how I’d want it to be.’”

Lara Montgomery added: “Nobody can expect the country to live in lockdown, but I think if I could have my wish it would be that people could carry on being… careful and safe.”

Anyone who is worried about restrictions being lifted can call Macmillan’s Support Line which is open 8am-8pm, 7 days a week, on 0808 808 00 00 for free information and support.