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Don't Delay Seeking Vital Diagnosis Amid Covid Fears

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The news that cancer referrals have reduced significantly across Wales during the Covid-19 pandemic is raising real concerns that thousands of people may be going undiagnosed because they are staying away from their GP due to Covid-19 fears.

Clearly, added pressures upon the NHS is having an effect upon the delivery of cancer treatment for some patients. However, diagnosing cancer at an early stage is crucial to saving lives too, and it is important that people with symptoms seek medical advice as soon as they can.  

Lung Cancer and Covid Symptoms

A cough is a principal symptom of lung cancer. For several months we have been advised by the Welsh Government and the NHS that symptoms of Covid-19 include a dry, continuous cough, and we have been instructed to remain at home if we develop such symptoms. Clearly, arresting the spread of Covid-19 is a key priority and this is a time of very difficult choices for the authorities, but it is important that people who have concerns about a persistent cough seek professional advice.

A recent inquiry by the Senedd’s Cross Party Group on Cancer (CPGC) suggests that the Covid-19 advice has resulted in a worrying decrease in GP attendances and referrals for suspected cancer, with lung cancer referrals being most affected.

Concerns over a drop in suspected lung cancer referrals has also been raised by Dr Ian Williamson, the assistant medical director of cancer services and a lung cancer consultant physician at Gwent Hospital. He has advised:

“It is crucial that patients who experience any suspected cancer symptoms discuss these with their GP… Sometimes cancer can be picked up early as an incidental finding when patients have a test for other concerns… Unfortunately, as a result of Covid19, fewer patients are having these types of tests.”

Decline in Lung Cancer Referrals

The CPGC report highlights the effect the pandemic has had on lung cancer referrals. The inquiry found the following:

  • Referrals from GPs for suspected lung cancer down 72% during lockdown in April
  • Referrals from GPs for suspected lung cancer down 26% in August
  • Overall fall of 9% in the referrals for all types of suspected cancers
  • Lung cancer symptoms are being confused with Covid -19 symptoms
  • Undiagnosed cancer cases building

What Needs to Be Done

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell has advised that the inquiry confirms that action must be taken now to tackle “a wave of undiagnosed cancer cases.”

The Welsh Government and NHS Wales have been urged to address the cancer crisis urgently. Among the CPGC report’s recommendations are:

  • Urgent reintroduction of the Single Cancer Pathway
  • Includes the Welsh Government’s cancer waiting times target, under which patients should be tested and begin treatment within 62 days of cancer being suspected
  • Increase in awareness of lung cancer symptoms to address confusion with Covid-19

As the country continues to make strides in getting to grips with Covid-19, Wales risks stepping out of one health crisis and into another. It is vital that people who fear they have signs of cancer don’t delay in seeking help.

This article was prepared by Nick O’Neill an Associate Solicitor in our Injury Services team at JCP Solicitors. If you have any questions you can contact Nick on 02920 391917 or email Nick.O'