The NHS is anticipating a torrent of legal claims from patients who had delayed diagnosis or treatment of their cancer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Patients who had their tests, treatments, or scans deferred because of Covid-related disruption may decide to make a claim if their condition has deteriorated or their prognosis worsened.
Urgent cancer surgery was postponed for many patients during the second wave of coronavirus due to the lack of intensive care beds that were available. The Royal College of Surgeons has said that it has been pushing for the implementation of specially designed Covid-free hospitals for over a year. This would have minimised the impact on individuals and helped to reduce the number of clinical negligence claims.
For example, some patients have had their chemotherapy treatment stopped halfway through because Covid has disrupted normal care at hospitals. This is undoubtedly going to cause patients a phenomenal amount of stress and anxiety with regards to their prognosis.
It has been predicted by The Lancet Oncology that delays in cancer treatment since March 2020 could lead to 3,500 avoidable cancer deaths in England in the next five years.
The courts will therefore need to perform a meticulous balancing act in the near future when assessing clinical negligence claims. Each case will need to be looked at on its particular facts and what a reasonable body of medical opinion would have done given the circumstances at the time.
Although it is too early to assess the volume of claims that will result from this crisis, it is very likely that there will be an influx of cases. However, families and individuals are more reluctant to pursue the NHS if hospitals are transparent about delays from the offset.
It is important to note that the NHS are eager to push the message that cancer services still remain open throughout the pandemic, and that people should come forward for checks and treatment.