Advice Centre

Dec

Cancer claims during the pandemic

The pandemic has been the most surreal times in our lives however, so many have suffered. Some have directly lost their lives due to Covid-19 and some have lost their lives indirectly because of the challenges posed by the pandemic and, due to the pressures caused on our healthcare system.

Those patients who have had symptoms that required treatment but could not receive treatment because our healthcare system was overwhelmed will wonder if they have been short-changed. It is becoming clear the death toll will be much more than those recorded. Cancer screening was suspended and only urgent cases were prioritised. For cancer patients and their families, this is even more worrying.

We have the best cancer care in the world but recent stats give us some cause of concern.  Cancer charity suggested that late diagnosis accounted for poor outcomes and prognosis. This was some years ago but since Covid-19 this is likely to be much worse.

UK health care system is under a great deal of pressure and it is not hard to envisage how Covid will have impacted on cancer survival stats but behind the stats are real people. Older people with cancer are likely to have other health problems which will play a part in their chances of survival.  Other factors that will impact on the care and treatment of cancer patients during the pandemic will vary.  Care in UK health sector is often offered in different specialist centres and this can lead to poor communication. Some treatments are not offered on account of costs and some centres may not offer specialist treatment so the postcode lottery for cancer care will magnify what happens in real terms. Due to the pandemic, some centres will have had to change their service to cater for Covid patients, while some hospitals may have experienced staff shortages due to exhaustion or Covid-19  related illness.

Of the many types of cancer, lung cancer is the biggest killer and some symptoms of lung cancer are similar to Covid-19 being of a respiratory nature such as cough, breathing difficulties but with lung cancer there is loss of weight. Brain cancer is another one that could be mistaken for Covid-19 where patients have loss of smell and taste.  Some patients could be have been treated for Covid-19 and advised to stay in isolation as opposed to being referred for investigation. 

Predictions for cancer make grim reading suggesting thousands of excess cancer deaths due to Covid-19.  Drop in GP referrals and a reduction in cancer screening is going to make matters worse also. What some patients will want to know is whether if there was a delay in diagnosis of their cancer during the pandemic which also resulted in a delay in the right treatment, do they have a right to make a claim because their overall could have been compromised.

There will be the following potential areas of claims:-

  1. Patients inability to access treatment or a delay in accessing treatment
  2. Mis-diagnosis due to late referral or incorrect investigation
  3. Confusing Covid-19 with say lung or brain cancer

If a claim is made the Court will consider if there was a discussion by those in charge of patient care about the risks and benefits of a particular course of treatment in each individual case.

As most patients see their G.P. in the first instance when they have any worrying symptoms so the Court will want to know if the doctor in question took a full and comprehensive history before making a diagnosis and an alternative diagnosis.  Another consideration will be did the history indicate cancer? Did the symptoms described warrant further a review? Should the doctor have arranged a face to face consultation as opposed to an online consultation given the Covid-19 restrictions?

Legal experts will have to take into account when considering such cases of the prevalent Government Covid-19 guidelines and appropriate expert evidence will be needed to see if there is a case to prove, and whether there is reach of duty of care and a causative link.

The NHS has been under a great deal of pressure so there will be valid concerns regarding what potential claims will do in terms of staff morale for those in the NHS and primary care.  Claims like this will also be an added burden on the tax payer and a drain on the NHS however, the Government have made provisions to allow for such claims as there seems to have been a recognition of the constant change in instructions to the public and the health professionals when we were all in the midst of the pandemic and the NHS was overwhelmed.

It is too early to say if claims for indirect damage and harm caused through the pandemic will be successful but one thing is certain the Courts are used to dealing with complex issues and they will be asked to test to what extend negligence in these cases can be established so genuine claimants should not be put off from seeking legal advice if they require. 

If you would like to have an informal chat with our Clinical Negligence experts in confidence to see if you have a viable claim then please complete the contact form on our website and we will give you a call back at a time convenient to you or please call/ contact Daxa Patel, Clinical Negligence Partner & Solicitor by contacting us on 0330 107 0107 or email clinicalnegligence@imd.co.uk.  Once we are contacted by you, one of our helpful team members will contact you. Please note we have a team of lawyers who speak many languages including English, Polish, Romanian, Russian and Lithuanian

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