If you follow our blog, then you’ll know we recently published our advice on whether you can seek compensation if your operation is cancelled due to Covid-19. Well, it’s not just surgeries that are being delayed due to the risk of infection.
Being diagnosed with cancer can be life changing and statistics suggest that 1 in 2 people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. So, it is understandable that thousands of people are going through treatment at any given time, something that has been affected for many going through this experience during the pandemic.
Types of Cancer Medical Negligence Claims
Unfortunately, there are instances where the impact of a cancer diagnosis on a patient can be made worse because of actions or lack of action by a GP or hospital. Common circumstances where this can happen are where:
- A medical professional has failed to recognise a patient has ‘red flag’ symptoms suggestive of cancer and a diagnosis has been missed.
- There has been a failure, delay or incorrect referral made to a specialist cancer clinic or for further investigations. The correct actions would have resulted in an earlier diagnosis.
- Appropriate investigation has been carried out (e.g. blood tests or scans) but have not been reported or acted on correctly.
- Treatment has been delayed or the incorrect treatment has been given.
Where this occurs, it can result in patients having to undergo invasive treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, which they could have avoided with earlier or correct treatment. There can also be an impact on the patient’s chances of surviving the cancer.
A Case Example
A GP could fail to recognise an abnormal PSA blood test result in a patient that results in a prostate cancer diagnosis being delayed for a number of years. With an earlier referral, the patient would have had an operation to remove the prostate gland and the tissues surrounding it and have been cured of the cancer. The delay in diagnosing the cancer resulted in the patient having to have avoidable radiotherapy and medical castration therapy and the associated side effects of those treatments. The patient’s life expectancy was reduced by a period of 15 years because of the delay.
There is a significant number of claims made each year because of a delay or incorrect treatment for cancer. It is thought that the actual number of patients who suffer avoidable harm because of the actions or lack of action by medical professions is greater than the actual claim made because patients assume they have been treated correctly.
Read more: The Most Common Cancer Compensation Claims
What Impact Has Covid-19 Had On Cancer Services?
The current coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on cancer services in England and Wales. Analysis from MacMillian Cancer Support has found that up to 50,000 people are now missing a cancer diagnosis for a number of reasons, including:
- Patients are too frightened or too worried to visit the GP regarding symptoms they have.
- Patients do not want to add to the current pressure on the NHS.
- Patients are waiting too long for investigations because of delays caused by the pandemic.
- Routine cancer screening was suspended.
The main reason for the reduction in the number of cancer patients is considered to be the fall in the number of referrals being made. The NHS and various cancer charities are running campaigns to encourage patients with any symptoms to seek medical help.
What Guidance Has Been Given To The NHS On Cancer Services During The Pandemic?
At the start of the pandemic, the national guidance across England and Wales was that urgent cancer services should be protected from disruption. When those services became impacted by the pandemic, the guidance was that those services should be urgently restored as far as possible to pre-pandemic levels.
Hospitals were asked to:
- Have separate covid/non-covid patients to dedicated sites.
- Make use of independent and field hospital capacity.
- Ensure adequate physical and workforce capacity, social distancing and infection confirm measures.
Some treatment and procedures were paused because it was not known what impact Covid-19 have on cancer patients. Guidance was then prepared and issues on how to proceed safely and hospitals would have been expected to have acted in accordance with that guidance, if they were able to do so.
What Expectations Should I Have For Cancer Services During The Pandemic?
Despite the unfortunate difficulties caused by the pandemic, patients should still expect a minimal standard of care.
If a patient attends a GP or hospital appointment with red flag symptoms (e.g. unexplained abdominal pain, change in bowel habit, weight loss and/or iron-deficiency anemia are all red flag symptoms for suspected bowel cancer) then those symptoms should be acted upon and appropriate referrals made.
If investigations are performed (scans or blood tests) they should still be reported correctly and acted upon.
It is understandable that there has been some disruption to cancer services and, in some circumstances, delays to investigations and treatment will be acceptable and no one is to blame for that happening. Some hospitals have taken quite innovative measures to ensure cancer patients are treated using buses or setting up protective hubs.
However, not all delays in treatment will be acceptable and the pandemic will not always be a justifiable reason for that delay.
When considering whether a delay has been appropriate or not, individual hospital policies have to be looked at. It has to be considered if those policies were reasonable policies to have at the stage of the pandemic when treatment should have been provided and the particular impact the pandemic was having on the hospital at that time.
It has been reported that there were some hospitals who made blanket decisions to reallocate staff and resources away from cancer services without considering whether it was actually necessary and needed at that time.
There also should have been lessons learnt during the first wave of the pandemic and preparations made to avoid the impact on cancer treatment during the second wave of the pandemic.
Am I Entitled To Compensation?
The pandemic has put additional stress on our health service and has meant a lot of treatment has had to be suspended.
Whilst that is acceptable for non-urgent lifesaving treatment, the national guidance was clear that urgent cancer services should continue uninterrupted. Those which were interrupted should have resumed as soon as possible and there should have been steps taken to ensure patients could have access to the investigations and treatment they needed.
If harm has been caused, which would have been avoided, you may be entitled to compensation. This will depend on the guidance given for the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with during the pandemic and whether the hospital policies in your area where reasonable.
Let Howells Help You Get The Compensation You Deserve
If you feel your cancer diagnosis has been missed or delayed, or your treatment has been affected, and you consider this may have caused you additional harm, please get in touch with our experienced legal team to find out more about medical negligence compensation and if you have a case.