The RadPro Q and A with Professor Karol Sikora

Our introduction

In an era of lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people are taking to social media to make their point and have their voice or that of others, heard.

This makes sense, as while people are social distancing, self-isolating, working from home or in quarantine there is less if any physical contact with others and so conversation, important to us as Human beings is now being undertaken with internet based communication tools such as Skype, Zoom and Teams, while social media platforms have always been an easy to use extension of this.

Words such as furloughing that we had never heard before have become part of our daily lexicon while Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives has taken over from Get Brexit Done, Remain/Leave and Take Back Control.

As lockdown eases around the world people are slowly “taking back control” again and social media is helping drive this with opinions hugely varying from “unlock” to “keep-locked” for instance, dividing us as ever.

RadPro wanted to look at the impact of social media in our field of cancer care and radiotherapy and so who better to ask than Professor Karol Sikora, who has been an Oncologist for 50 years and is Chief Medical Officer of Rutherford Health PLC, founding Dean and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham Medical School and an ex-director of the WHO Cancer Programme for his thoughts on this phenomena.

From a standing start in March he has almost 300K Twitter followers now, has been described as the Positive Professor and the Voice of Reason among many other epithets from the general public to MP’s and so we hope you enjoy our brief Q and A interview below.

The RadPro Q and A with Professor Karol Sikora

Q. Why did you set up a Twitter account in March?

A. I set up the Twitter after a lunch with a retired oncologist whom I’ve known for over 45 years. This was just before the lockdown started and he told me that if I wanted to get a message over it was a great medium for it. My message was simple. With the impending Corona virus pandemic, I thought cancer patients were going to be thrown under the bus. Whatever the propaganda from NHS England this proved to be exactly the case. It still is. I’ve used my Twitter to try and redress the balance between Covid and other illnesses in the NHS.

Q. What are your thoughts about using Twitter now some 3 months on?

A. It’s not for the fainthearted. People can be very rude and personal. I’m sure some of them would never and get involved in a conversation as aggressive in real life as on Twitter. It’s very toxic. I’m also surprised that people have the time to mess around with it although I now understand why when I travel on a train everybody is clutching their smart phones and messaging furiously. It strikes me that more politeness on the medium would go down well but some people seem to delight in being frankly unpleasant.

Q. Can you let us have one good and one bad thing you have learned about Twitter?

A. The best thing is getting memories from my past patients, old colleagues and younger doctors that I’ve worked with. It’s been lovely to make these contacts again.

A. Easily the worst thing is dealing with the unpleasant people. I’m always happy to debate when people are being civil, but personal attacks are beyond the pale for me. The block button has come in very useful! For some, anyone who is not being relentlessly pessimistic is seen as a cheerleader for the Government. There is no nuance, I have made my objections about the Government very clear and perhaps too often. 

Q. Are you surprised how popular your feed has become and so quickly?

A. I was completely taken aback by the rapid rise in my followers – it started off very slowly about 10 or 20 a day. My colleague at the beginning told me I’d be lucky to get 100 – he has 77 after a decade. I’ve ended up with nearly 300K; well above all other doctors and nearly catching up with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary (307K). I suspect by the time you read this I will have overtaken him in this crazy medium.

Q. How do you see your use of Twitter developing when the Covid-19 crisis is over?

A. That’s a very good question. I have no idea what I’m going to do when it’s over – maybe use it to put out cancer messages. Maybe I’ll talk about precision radiotherapy including proton beam therapy. Maybe I’ll talk about how we will improve therapy in the NHS by creating a network of integrated independent centres. That was the original idea of Cancer Partners UK that in turn became Genesis Care. There are now 27 independent cancer outlets many with NHS contracts. Maybe the next phase of reorganising cancer services will be done by Twitter.

If you have any comments you can tweet us on @RadProWebsite and you can follow @ProfKarolSikora yourself on Twitter if you wish!

Duncan Hynd – 8th June 2020