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Leader comment: Here’s health unto His Majesty

09 February 2024

IT IS not how one would choose to spend World Cancer Day, which fell on Sunday. After attending church in Sandringham, the King must have spent much of the day telling close contacts about the announcement that he would make on Monday evening that he had “a form of cancer”. He had also to prepare for his first bout of treatment. Beyond the immediate family, the cascade of information had something of the nature of a chief executive’s informing shareholders of information pertinent to the share price. Leading politicians and Commonwealth leaders all had to be briefed before the news was made public more widely. It was a reminder of how many people have a stake in the health and well-being of the British monarch, beyond their relationship with the King himself. But, once the announcement was made, the official blended with the personal, and expressions of concern, prayers, and warm wishes filled social media and, we like to hope, old-fashioned postbags.

Then there are the formal prayers for the King and the royal family in the Church’s liturgy. A priest of our acquaintance tells how an inexperienced curate presided at holy communion for the first time. Afterwards, she asked a parishioner, a former lady-in-waiting to the late Queen, how well she had done. “Lovely, my dear, but I couldn’t help noticing that you didn’t pray for the Queen.” “Oh,” said the curate, mortified. “Is she ill?” Members of the royal family have been ever appreciative of the prayers said for them each Sunday, in sickness and in health. The King’s condition might remind those churches that have drifted away from such an observance to restore these prayers.

One reason given for the King’s announcement was “in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer”. World Cancer Day was marked by reminders that the UK’s record on cancer treatment is now determinedly mid-table, and media interviewees related how family members had died without treatment, while waiting for a first appointment with an oncologist. A year ago, a public-accounts committee described waiting times for treatment as at their “worst recorded level”. Last November, the most recent set of figures available, 65.2 per cent of cancer patients received a first treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. The target is 85 per cent. The figures since then are not expected to have improved. It would be good — and we are sure that the King would concur — if the high profile given to his condition led to a greater commitment to delivering better and faster treatment to cases across the board. The stigma about cancer’s being a death sentence will be lifted only when survival rates improve to something nearer those achieved in other countries. Here’s health unto His Majesty, and to all who suffer with him.

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