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Covid and the Cancer Backlog

  • Published: Wednesday October 21, 2020
  • Category: NHS
  • Tags: delay-cancer-diagnosis,

At the beginning of October I attended APILs (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) annual clinical negligence conference. This year the topic for discussion over 2 days was cancer. I listened to speakers with backgrounds in various cancer specialities and barristers giving updates on the law in the last 12 months. All of the speakers were excellent but I was particularly struck by the discussion on the impact of Covid on our cancer care system from a Professor of Oncology.

She talked about the current challenges faced by the NHS cancer service and the problems facing cancer patients but her message was clear: if you have a concern about a potential cancer you must go to the doctors and seek help no matter what the current challenges in hospitals. The NHS is open for business!

The potential harm that she described because of Covid could be terrifying if the predictions are correct. In March 2020 cancer screening was stopped, treatments postponed and clinics cancelled. The result is a cancer backlog estimated at 80,000 patients. Cancer specialists are predicting 35,000 avoidable deaths and an estimated 60,000 lost life years. The NHS is still not running at full speed and some are estimating that it could take 5 years to catch up and that is not accounting for what may happen over the coming winter.

Whilst the advice from specialists is that the NHS is open, it is not working to its normal capacity and if you need treatment you must get into the system and onto the waiting lists.

In my medical negligence practice I see a lot of potential delay in diagnosis of cancer cases even pre Covid. The fear now is that because of Covid those cases will increase. Cancer that should have been diagnosed and treated in 2019, for example, but were missed and diagnosed in 2020 has hit the Covid backlog and treatment will be further delayed. There will also be patients who sought treatment earlier but are now too scared to go to hospital because of their fear of Covid are not getting the treatment they need.

The way claims involving cancer are dealt with will probably change in the coming years to take account of the challenges faced by the NHS. We will need to give careful consideration to when Covid cannot be a valid reason for failing to diagnose and treat or for mistakes made that were unreasonable. At Graystons we are committed to keeping up to date with changes and we will always fight for our clients who have been injured as a consequence of substandard care.

If you are worried in respect of cancer care or treatment you have received please contact us and one of our specialist team will be happy to discuss your concerns.