Last year (2020), The Lancet Oncology journal predicted that there could be more than 3,500 avoidable cancer deaths in England in the next five years because of the pressure Covid has put on the NHS, demonstrating the scale and severity of the disruption.
Even before the pandemic, the NHS was struggling to meet the demands of its ever-growing waiting list, but as more and more medical care is delayed, patients are experiencing complications which need more invasive treatments and are ultimately putting lives at risk.
Cancellations and delays in NHS appointments and operations are not something new. Most winters, trusts are forced to cancel non-urgent routine appointments to relieve pressure as demand for hospital beds increases.
However, this has reached unprecedented levels due to the pandemic, with Cancer Research UK saying more than 2.4 million people have been left waiting for cancer screening, tests and treatment.
Where these delays have led to the worsening of a condition that could have been avoided had there been care available, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim.
Last March (2020), NICE issued guidelines on prioritising patients receiving anticancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These guidelines were interpreted differently by various trusts, with some cancelling lifesaving treatment all together unnecessarily. Clinical oncologist, Professor Pat Price, told BBC Panorama that radiotherapy machines in many hospitals were lying idle, despite it being simple to administer the therapy in a way which is Covid safe.
If a patient was denied access to anticancer treatment, despite being a high priority patient according to NICE’s guidelines, this could be medical negligence.
Some areas of the UK saw a 75% decrease in lung cancer referrals at the height of the first wave, creating concern that common symptoms of lung cancer, such as a continuous cough, were being misdiagnosed as Covid.
Changes have been made to the way GP surgeries operate with a mass migration to telephone and video consultations. Research by Imperial College London suggests that the impossibility of thorough physical examinations over video could lead to an increase in misdiagnoses.
Misdiagnoses, or missed diagnoses, could lead to patients being prescribed incorrect treatments or no treatment at all, eventually leading to their conditions worsening. In these cases, if a failing on the doctor’s part can be proven, medical negligence claims are possible.
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