The dreaded ‘C words’: Cancer and Coronavirus

News / / Bristol

Cancer and coronavirus; the ‘C words’ that no one wants to hear. Both causing millions of deaths across the globe and both with their own issues on how to screen, treat or prevent effectively.

For some time now, there has been growing concern about the impact of coronavirus in relation to cancer diagnosis and treatment in the UK. In particular, the devastating impact of coronavirus on the NHS overall, the pressures on resources, and what this has meant for those suffering from cancer is all of huge concern.

Macmillan[i] has been calling for action from the UK Government. They estimate there are currently 50,000 people with cancer without a sufficient diagnosis, because either they’ve not come forward due to concerns over the pandemic, or they have been lost in an under-resourced and over-stretched healthcare system.

Macmillan reports that the pandemic has impacted on screening, vital appointments and surgeries, with many treatments being postponed or cancelled. Unfortunately, resulting in tens of thousands of cancer patients having their first cancer treatment delayed compared to pre-pandemic waiting times.

At Ince, we specialise in representing cancer patients with delays to their diagnosis or treatment (or both) due to medical negligence. We’ve witnessed some of this first-hand, with clients telling us their treatment is halted or delayed and their worries about how that will impact on their future. We also have new clients approaching us with their concerns over delays in their diagnosis and treatment.

Last year, we saw the #catchupwithcancer[ii] campaign, that aimed to encourage the UK Government to better fund and organise cancer treatment in the NHS, enabling them to catch-up the backlog caused by both the pandemic and general resource issues.

However, last month[iii] it was reported that at the end of 2021, the waiting times for breast cancer patients has quadrupled, with over half of those referred with suspected breast cancer not being seen by a specialist within the recommended two-week period.

We know that with breast cancer, time is critical. Delays in diagnosis, surgical treatment, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other treatment such as hormonal therapy, can all have a negative impact on someone’s chances of survival from this terrible disease.[iv]

There are recommended guidelines[v] for diagnosis and treatment of various types of cancer. These guidelines come from studies clearly demonstrating the impact that delays can have and the importance of early intervention to improve survival chances.

It may be years before the true impact of coronavirus on cancer patients is realised. But even without the virus, the UK has one of the worst cancer treatment records in Europe. A study by DATA-CAN, the Health Care Research Hub (HDR UK) for cancer, estimates there could be as many as 35,000 avoidable deaths of cancer patients due to the impact of the pandemic[vi]. This figure will surely keep climbing until such time as cancer services in the UK are appropriately funded and managed, ensuring that every patient is promptly seen by a specialist, diagnosed and then treated.

If you are concerned about a delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer for you or a loved one, get in touch with a member of our Medical Negligence team.

This article is also available to read on page 73 in the latest issue of Bristol Life magazine. To read the article, click here.
Gillian Clark

Gillian Clark Partner and Head of Medical Negligence

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