'I am very angry at the way I have been treated due to Covid-19': Horrendous toll on non-virus patients is emerging

There is a growing concern among many consultants that when it comes to Covid-19 the cure may be worse than the disease.

As the death toll from the virus soars above 40,000, slowly the horrendous toll on non-Covid patients is emerging.

These are patients who are not afflicted by coronavirus, but who have had their treatment or diagnosis for other potentially deadly conditions postponed or cancelled, as hospitals scrambled to make way for an overwhelming burden of Covid-19 patients.

Sherwin Hall is just one such case.

The 27-year-old from Leeds had tried 13 times in one month, during the lockdown to get a proper diagnosis for the crippling pain in his groin.

He was initially told it might be a sexually transmitted disease.

Eventually he was given the all clear of any STD after multiple blood tests and begged for an MRI scan.

But he claims he was told no scans would be available because of the Covid-19 emergency.

Finally after a month in which he made 13 visits to hospital, he got a scan which confirmed a 14cm tumour near his pelvis.

He clams his consultant confirmed the delay in diagnosis and therefore cancer treatment may have serious consequences on his chances of survival.

He told me: "I am very angry at the way I have been treated due to Covid-19 and the delay on my cancer treatment and now I am fighting for my life.

"I have an eight-week-old baby that I might not be able to see soon…. you know…. it just devastates me."

He added: "The doctor said if they would have caught it sooner, if they had given me imagery sooner, they would have been able to tackle it sooner and they would have been confident in the growth size as well."

His lawyer is Mary Smith, who specialises in medical negligence at Novum Law in Bristol.

She is worried there will be a spike in cases involving delayed diagnosis or treatment coming across her desk.

She wants an urgent overhaul of the management of this crisis, now its peak appears to have passed.

Put simply: it’s time to restart the NHS or more people will die from lack of urgent treatment than have died from the virus.

A lawyer says it's time to restart the NHS or more people will die from lack of urgent treatment. Credit: PA

“The urgent cases we are hearing about are fairly significant," Ms Smith said.

"We’ve got clients approaching us and are hearing, anecdotally, through clinical contacts, that this is a fairly widespread problem.

"The concern at the moment is that, for non-Covid patients, the healthcare system in parts of the UK has entered a state of paralysis and this really cannot be allowed to continue because people are suffering harm.

"For patients to be denied potentially life-saving diagnostics and treatment when hospitals are empty or running far below normal capacity, and so many doctors and other healthcare workers are able and willing to treat them, is a clear breach of the government’s systemic duty under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to have a properly functioning healthcare framework in place to protect patients’ lives.

"It is indefensible.

"Urgent care can be provided safely with good planning, adequate protective equipment for staff, and appropriate safeguards in place.

"Where Covid-related risks cannot be removed, the law is clear that patients should be informed of those risks and given a choice as to whether to proceed with treatment.”

Peter Walsh is the Chief Executive of the charity Action Against Medical Accidents and is hearing the same complaint across the country.

"We have really grave concerns about the lack of access to treatment for potentially life saving treatment for many patients who haven’t got Covid," he told ITV News.

"Of course we understand at the beginning of this pandemic to protect both patients and staff from the virus itself but now we know there is a second catastrophe waiting to happen, if thousands of patients are to suffer through not getting the treatment or diagnostic services they need."

Many cancer treatments were paused during the virus outbreak, partly to free up resources but also amid concerns immo-suppressed patients undergoing chemotherapy would be more vulnerable, and that surgery could be too risky.

Professor Gordon Wishart is a consultant breast surgeon who worked in the NHS until December but is now in the private sector, which has been largely requisitioned by the NHS to cope with the pandemic.

He says GP referrals are down 70% meaning thousands of cancer cases are probably being missed during the lockdown.

"We have NHS hospitals with really very few patients other than Covid-19 patients and we have independent sector and private hospitals still lying fallow with very few patients and increasing frustration among consultants who work there," Prof Wishart said.

In some cities, chemotherapy services have continued in rather unorthodox circumstances.

In Bristol cancer patients are being treated in a dental school; literally getting their vital intravenous medicines in the dentist chair.

Bryony Thomas is one of those whose thankful her programme of chemotherapy has been able to continue here, knowing in so many other cities it has not.

She has pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive and potentially deadly forms of the disease.

Missing just a month of treatment could dramatically alter her chances of surviving five years.

"I feel lucky being in Bristol, I feel lucky that we have got this dental facility they can use, not every city has got that and as you say the hospitals are empty that are not being used for those other medical treatments that people so desperately need," she said.

The irony of the situation is not lost on her: while she gets her chemo in a dentist’s chair, less than a mile away the private state of the art Spire hospital, sits eerily quiet, despite being offered to the NHS at cost.

The NHS is currently operating at about 60% of its capacity, as opposed to the 90-95 % it normally does.

One doctor told me he estimates even if there is a radical change of course, and private hospitals are used to take capacity up to 125%, it will take a year to clear the backlog.

A spokesperson for the NHS: “Even though more people than ever started NHS cancer treatment and over 180,000 people were referred for checks in March, coronavirus has turned millions of lives upside down.

“NHS staff have made huge efforts to ensure that patients continue to get treatment - cancer services are largely now open, ready and able to receive all patients who need care, so the critical point is that anyone who is concerned about a possible cancer symptom should contact their GP practice and come forward for a check-up."