Recent headlines have indicted, “Substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths in England are to be expected as a result of diagnostic delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Urgent policy interventions are necessary, particularly the need to manage the backlog within routine diagnostic services to mitigate the expected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with cancer.” The Lancet.
The rhetoric of ‘Stay Home and Save the NHS’ along with the difficulty many patients have experienced in getting face to face appointments with their GP has, inevitably, led to a failure in early referrals for suspected cancer and delays in cancer treatment.
Of course, we were living in a time of uncertainty, however reports are now highlighting the concerning and devastating impact the pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions have had upon Non-Covid healthcare concerns, specifically cancer patients.
If you feel that you, family member or friend has suffered a delay in diagnosing cancer, or receiving treatment, please contact one of our specialist lawyers to discuss your concerns free of charge. We can also advise you of your potential funding options and whether you may be offered a ‘no win no fee’ agreement.
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.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, in June 2018 Alexandra Hodson received a diagnosis of cervical cancer following her first smear test.
Prior to this, Ms Hodson had presented to her GP surgery with classic symptoms of the cervical cancer including bleeding between periods and pain during, and after, sexual intercourse. A nurse apparently advised Ms Hodson that her symptoms were normal and likely as a result of her contraceptive injection.
Following Ms Hodson’s first smear test, a tumour was found in her cervix and she commenced radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In April 2020, her family received the devastating news that treatment had been ineffective and Ms Hodson’s cancer was terminal.
Ms Hodson tragically passed away on 8th August 2020.
If you believe that you, or a loved one, have suffered a delay in the diagnosis of cancer because of suspected clinical negligence, one of our specialist clinical negligence solicitors would be happy to speak with you and advise you as to your options, including a formal complaint and a legal claim. There is no initial charge for discussing this with us and we will talk you through your options, including how to fund a case and the possibility of a no win no fee arrangement (conditional fee agreement or CFA)”
The journal Lancet Oncology last week predicted that delays in cancer treatment since March could lead to 3,500 avoidable cancer deaths in England in the next five years.
This could be the result of tests and treatments for cancer patients being postponed or the result of patients being too frightened to seek the treatment that they needed. Julie Grayston expressed her concern in an article in the Law Society Gazette this week. She said ‘there is likely to be a surge of cases, although currently people are reluctant to pursue the NHS. The problem will be whether the decision was correct at the time that treatment should stop or that people shouldn’t go to hospital. I think the fundamental issue is that the decision was made without any individual discussion to weigh up the risks of delaying treatment.’
Paul Rumley, chair of The Society of Clinical Injury lawyers agreed that there may be a problem yet to surface. He added ‘The balancing factor is whether the courts are prepared to allow such claims or whether defendants successfully argue it is a resources issue – that so much was being thrown at a pandemic that other services had to suffer, but that was reasonable and therefore excusable.’
One of our clients at Graystons has been awarded a six figure settlement following a negligent delay in the diagnosis of lung cancer. JW from Derby was finally diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017 despite having troubling symptoms for a number of years previously. Following investigation by the legal experts at Graystons, it was established that there were missed opportunities in 2013 and 2016 to diagnose and treat the cancer. As a consequence of the delay in diagnosis, the cancer had progressed and JW ‘s condition required more invasive surgery and chemotherapy treatment. His quality of life and anticipated life expectancy as a result of the delay were significantly reduced.
University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust admitted liability and provided a comprehensive apology to JW. Following this,the Trust and the legal experts at Graystons were able to agree a six figure settlement compensating JW for his injuries, his lost earnings and allowing him to access care and support for himself and his family in the future.
Serious delays in diagnosis of cancer, such as in JW’s case are, thankfully rare. It is however essential that these case are investigated thoroughly. A specialist clinical negligence lawyer is required so that victims are compensated appropriately and receive answers about the care received. Alerting hospital trusts to these cases also provides the opportunity for invaluable learning and addressing shortcomings within the system.
If you or a loved one is concerned that there has been a delay in diagnosis, you can contact one of the specialist clinical negligence lawyers at Graystons for advice and support. There is no charge to discuss the case initially and we will speak to you about your options with funding a claim, such as accessing legal cover via an existing insurance policy, or no win no fee.
A recent report by the Detect Cancer Early programme (DCE) has shown that those who live in deprived areas are less likely to receive early cancer diagnoses than those living in more affluent areas.
It is important that cancer is identified as early as possible so as to give patients the best chances of recovery. The failure to detect cancer when it is in its early stages can have devastating effects on patients and their families; as it can mean that cancer may be less treatable. In the case of more aggressive forms of cancer, it may even mean that the cancer is, sadly, not treatable at all.
If you have concerns regarding a delayed diagnosis of cancer, one of our specialist clinical negligence solicitors would be happy to speak with you and advise you on your options, including a formal complaint and a legal claim. There is no initial charge for discussing this with us and we will talk you through your options, including how to fund a case and the possibility of a no win no fee arrangement (conditional fee agreement or CFA).