COVID-19 and Access to Healthcare
Ever since the world went into lockdown, access to healthcare has been challenging, even more so for non-covid patients. It is no doubt that healthcare professionals are working tirelessly, however, as many will have read in the media, concerns continue to be expressed in relation to the opening up of healthcare services for non-covid patients who are at risk of serious harm or death if they cannot access them. Thousands of doctors say important wider patient care has been neglected in the COVID-19 pandemic and are significantly worried about long-term clinical demands on the NHS.
Unfortunately, delayed access to healthcare can result in delayed diagnosis and subsequently delay in treatment. Since a national lockdown was introduced across the UK in March, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer screening has been suspended, routine diagnostic work deferred, and only urgent symptomatic cases prioritised for diagnostic intervention. A Lancet Oncology study has shown that from the onset of the lockdown, essential diagnostic services (e.g. endoscopies) were suspended or operating at substantially reduced capacity, even through the urgent 2-week-wait referral pathway.
The number of endoscopies performed in April, 2020, was 90% fewer than the number done in each of the first three months of 2020. Whilst these diagnostic services had restarted as of June 2020, they were at reduced capacities. It is also highlighted that a considerate proportion of patients across the UK are diagnosed with cancer through routine outpatient referral pathways.
Even when routine diagnostic services are re-initiated, substantial delays in routine and 2-week-wait referral pathways are to be expected due to backlogs currently building up across all benign and malignant medical and surgical sub-specialities. Similarly, problems and difficulties are being reported in other services including cardiology, strokes, neurology and others. The Lancet study concludes that patients whose symptoms indicate cancer have been disadvantaged, and some patients will die as a result.
Access to Healthcare
Changes in access to healthcare has meant that routine referrals from GPs have reduced in volume because patients are being asked to only present if they have urgent concerns. Additionally, the increasing number of remote consultations via telephone or videoconferencing has the potential to result in an increased proportion of missed diagnoses, without the ability to examine and triage the patient directly. While most medical professionals provide the right diagnosis, there are occasions when doctors can give the wrong diagnosis or miss the diagnosis of your medical condition and the likelihood of this happening has unfortunately increased due to the current access to healthcare. Before the Covid-19 outbreak the NHS was already suffering record waits in general practice, A&E, hospital and cancer services.
The health needs of patients have not disappeared; however, their care has effectively been placed on hold whilst the NHS deals with the pandemic. Thus, if you or a member of your family have suffered unnecessarily because of a failure to diagnose an existing medical condition, you could be entitled to compensation.