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December 30th 2021

Cancer Claims

Covid impact on cancer care must be addressed as figures suggest thousands left undiagnosed

Vince Shore

Vince Shore

Joint Head of Clinical Negligence, Hull

Covid impact on cancer care must be addressed as figures suggest thousands left undiagnosed

A recent report by Macmillan Cancer Support highlighted a “staggering” backlog of more than 47,000 people missing a cancer diagnosis in the UK in 2021 as a result of the impact on the NHS of treating people with Covid-19.

A recent report by Macmillan Cancer Support highlighted a “staggering” backlog of more than 47,000 people missing a cancer diagnosis in the UK in 2021 as a result of the impact on the NHS of treating people with Covid-19.

The charity also reported that more than 24,000 of those who began cancer treatment during the pandemic in England waited too long following their diagnosis.

It says people will continue to require care from a system ‘that does not have enough staff or resources to ensure they are given the best possible treatment and support’ and that ‘for some, these waits could mean a worse chance of survival’.

Throughout the pandemic we have of course all admired how dedicated and brave NHS staff have been there for coronavirus patients, and continue providing life-saving specialist care and treatment under huge, constant pressure today.

It is also widely accepted however, that this has largely happened at the expense of non-Covid-19 patients, an issue which will surely form a significant part of a Public Inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic when it begins next year.

Statistics show huge falls in diagnosis of cancers

The statistics, are as Macmillan says, staggering. In 2021 the number of people with confirmed cases of prostate cancer was down by almost a quarter (23%) compared with pre-Covid expectations.

The next most affected cancer types were multiple myeloma (-14%), melanoma (-13%), lymphoid leukaemia (-12%) and breast cancer (-12%).

The number of women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer has soared by up to almost half as much again compared with pre-Covid levels, while the number of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer has been repeatedly lower than it was before the Covid outbreak. These figures do not represent a fall in cases of cancer, but likely falls in cases of cancer being detected and treated early.

At Hudgell Solicitors we sadly see the negative impact any delay in diagnosis and treatment can have on long-term health each and every day.

This was highlighted in a recent case in which patient Maureen Gater’s cancer was missed, meaning a delay of 12 months in diagnosis and the start of her treatment. The delay ultimately cost Mrs Gater four years of life and cost her daughters and grandchildren precious time with her.

Should failure to diagnose cancer during pandemic be classed as negligence?

Ordinarily, before the onset of the pandemic, delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment would be considered unacceptable and a breach of duty of care, but there are sadly now likely to be thousands in a similar position.

A big question at present, as we again see the NHS battling a huge rise in Covid cases, is should patients be able to claim damages for the failure to diagnose cancer during the height of the pandemic?

The NHS has of course been in a ‘battle situation’ for much of the past two years, but should that make it void of the responsibility to provide life-critical care to others, and leave those who have suffered as a result unable to seek the legal redress?

The situation remains under the microscope, and it is clear there can be no winners. Lives are being lost. Perhaps the best advice for families with any concerns over a loved one’s health is to demand tests are done as soon as possible and to keep banging on the door until they are. Don’t accept it’s not possible. Everyone’s life is of equal value.

Keep records of all symptoms and discussions, all calls and appointments with health professionals – including cancelled appointments – and don’t accept care cannot be provided simply because we are in a pandemic.

There may be a case for claiming negligence in the future, there may not, so take legal advice, even if it is to have placed on record what has happened with someone who may be able to help in the future. Every delay in cancer diagnosis and treatment is a risk to health and that person’s potential recovery.

Delays as we have seen over the past two years can’t ever be allowed to become accepted, and must be challenged and investigated to ensure we are all better protected and cared for in the future.

Read more: Damages of £65,000 agreed after missed cancer scan cost grandmother four years of life.

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