Covid-19’s Lasting Impact on Cancer Patients
30 April 2021
There has been a dramatic drop in urgent referrals for suspected cancers in England caused by fewer people seeking medical advice and the widespread suspension of normal NHS diagnostic tests and surgery in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recent NHS England data has revealed that at the end of February 2021 hospital waiting lists in England reached the record high of 4.7 million people, with referrals for urgent cancer treatment down 8% on the previous year and a 9% drop in the number of people starting treatment for lung cancer compared with the same period the year before.
The NHS aims to see 93% of people who are referred to a specialist for suspected cancer following an urgent referral by their GP within two weeks. In January 2021 just 83.4% were seen within this timescale.
Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that 37,000 fewer people started treatment for cancer than should have done and it has said that the data shows ‘the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment’. It described ‘tens of thousands of people who are still missing a diagnosis due to disruption caused by the pandemic, which could affect their prognosis’.
The Guardian has recently reported that leading cancer surgeons are concerned that patients who could not have surgery, or a scan or see their GP because of Covid-related disruption may sue if their cancer has spread. This coupled with the cancellation of treatments and urgent cancer surgeries leads to the conclusion that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on cancer patients.
Kenneth Lees, specialist Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Curtis Law commented:
“It is crucial that anyone with signs or symptoms of cancer seeks medical attention as soon as possible.
During the various lockdowns people have been wary about consulting their GP or attending hospital, perhaps due to concerns about leaving the house or with the intention of not adding to the burden on local services. At the same time the capacity for MRI and CT scans has reduced, chemotherapy and radiotherapy appointments have been cancelled and surgeries have been postponed.
Any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer may cause a cancer to grow and potentially spread to other parts of the body, ultimately resulting in patients requiring more intensive treatments than would otherwise have been required and, in the worst cases, reduced life expectation. The Government has consistently recommended that patients who think that they have signs or symptoms of cancer see their GP or attend hospital as normal throughout the pandemic. Cancers grow at different rates, so the impact of any delayed diagnosis or treatment will vary from person to person, and each case must be assessed on its own particular facts and circumstances”
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