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Covid-19 and the Delay in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on hospital wait times has been widely reported in the media for several months. More specifically, there is growing concern regarding Cancer diagnosis and treatment. Cancer, irrespective of type, is a disease which is more manageable when diagnosed early. A late diagnosis vastly increases the chance of mortality.

It has been estimated that a week’s delay in Cancer referral lowers a patient’s chance of survival by 1%. In 2020, 4.4 million fewer Cancer diagnostic tests were undertaken compared to data from 2019. In April 2019 almost 200,000 people in England were referred to a consultant by their GP’s for suspected Cancer. In April 2020 that figure fell to 79,573. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have estimated that diagnostic delays caused by the Coronavirus pandemic will result in 3,500 avoidable deaths from breast, lung, oesophageal or bowel Cancer in England over the next 5 years.

Furthermore, there are also concerns regarding delays to Cancer treatment. Resources, doctors and nurses have been re-deployed to Covid-19 wards and Nightingale Hospitals. It is estimated that delaying Cancer treatment by 4 weeks increases the risk of death by as much as 10%. More specifically, a 4-week delay for head and neck radiotherapy increases the risk of death by up to 9%. Delaying follow up drug treatment after surgery for patients with colorectal Cancer is associated with a 13% risk of death. Finally, researchers estimate that that a breast Cancer surgical delay of 12 weeks will add up to 1,400 excess deaths in the UK over the course of a year.

Darren White, head of the Medical Negligence Department at Dunn & Baker Solicitors, said “these delays in diagnosis and treatment, if they are unreasonable, negligent and have resulted in the worsening of a patient’s condition, could lead to a medical negligence claim”.

If you believe you have suffered a negligent delay in diagnosis or treatment, please contact our Medical Negligence team for a free confidential initial discussion and advice.

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