Asbestos Cancer diagnosis impacted by Covid-19
By Kathy Cooke. 24th April 2020
Early diagnosis of mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer is important to maximise the treatment options available. Mesothelioma can spread quickly, so if not diagnosed in the early stages, then surgery may not be an option. It is therefore essential to contact your GP if you suspect that you have cancer symptoms.
However people are worried about Covid-19 Coronavirus, so there has been a significant drop in the number of urgent referrals for cancer, known as ‘2 week wait’ figures. In fact, the number of urgent referrals in England has dropped to around 25% of the usual levels.
Many people are reluctant to visit their GP and doctors in tern may be reluctant to refer patients for tests in hospitals for fear of Coronavirus.
Also diagnostic tests aren’t happening at the rate for fear of spreading the virus to patients and staff.
This is impacting the diagnosis of the most common cause of cancer death - lung cancers, including asbestos related lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Senior doctors and oncologists have urged Heath Secretary, Matt Hancock to increase cancer treatment capacity by sending NHS patients to private clinics. They point out that normal healthcare is creaking under the load of the Covid-19 outbreak with the diversion of cancer care equipment to the Coronavirus front line. Patients who have been waiting for Proton Beam Therapy (high energy protons precisely targeting tumours), continue to wait as the therapy often requires ventilators and anaesthetists, both of which are in high demand in the treatment of Covid-19.
The doctors comment that:
"Reduced PBT capacity will impact significantly on conventional radiotherapy services as an alternative form of radiation treatment"
Cancer Surgery severely disrupted
National guidelines state that urgent cancer treatment must continue. However, this is not the case in some UK hospitals where cancer surgery has been hit hard and consultants are having conversations with patients to explain the risks vs the benefits. There are issues with recovery beds and ventilators post surgery and Intensive-Care-Unit beds if the cancer surgery goes wrong.
Unfortunately, this is heavily affecting those who might benefit from surgery the most, as many ‘curative’ operations are complex. Doctors are concerned that early cancers are being ‘parked’ for 3 months or more, after which time the chances of curative surgery become less likely.
Covid-19 has also affected Chemotherapy and palliative care delivery, as the risks were deemed too high or there weren’t the staff to provide some of the therapies. This has left fewer options for faster-growing cancers like Mesothelioma.
Clinical trials in cancer treatment are also pausing or being discontinued, as energy is diverted from cancer to COVID-19. Current trials have stopped recruiting and new trials are being put on hold.
Partnerships in action
A few hospitals in London, Manchester and Leeds have been designated as Cancer Hubs and other locations now are creating Covid-free zones for cancer treatment. The NHS and the independent sector have been working together to ensure that the clinical and staffing challenges associated with putting the independent hospital capacity at the disposal of the NHS could be achieved. A couple of notable examples:
The oncology department at the University Hospitals Plymouth Trust has been transferred to the local Nuffield Health hospital which is providing facilities and staff to treat cancer patients and is helping to free up resources in the local Derriford NHS Hospital.
The Spire Hospital in Southampton is now hosting the local trust’s entire oncology service. Since taking on these services at the end of March 2020, it has carried out over 1,000 patient treatments and delivered more than 100 time-critical operations.
In-spite of the issues with cancer diagnosis, if you or a family member have been recently diagnosed with Mesothelioma or Asbestos Cancer we can offer advice on whether you are eligible to claim compensation. We are available to answer any questions you may have, but due to social distancing restrictions (at the time of writing), our solicitors will not be able to visit you in person.
Kathy Cooke MA. BSc(Hons)
Cancer consultant and advisor
Kathy has worked in the cancer field for over 30 years. She was course leader for the MSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology at University of Hertfordshire. Then radiotherapy manager at the Cromwell Hospital in London and Partnership Quality Lead for Macmillan Cancer Support.. Read more >