Widower blames GP telephone appointments for wife's cancer death

  • Watch Caron Bell's report

A man from Devizes says his wife might have survived cancer if she had been able to see her doctor earlier in a face-to-face appointment, rather than over the phone.

For much of the coronavirus pandemic, NHS England told surgeries to minimise in-person appointments.

But Nick Stokes says this meant his wife was not diagnosed quickly enough.

Joy Stokes, Nick's wife of 46 years, developed persistent leg and joint pain last summer and had numerous telephone appointments with her GP and a physiotherapist.

But due to Covid precautions she was not able to see any medical professional in person until January, when she was then diagnosed with cancer in her bones and brain. In April, Joy died at the age of 69.

Joy Stokes' oncologist at the Royal United Hospital in Bath told her husband that had her cancer been diagnosed earlier she might have survived.

Joy Stokes died at home in Worton in April. Credit: Stokes family

Nick said: "I feel very bitter obviously. It's very difficult to cope with. We were married for 46 years you know - she was my soul mate."

Nick Stokes said Joy did not get seen until he "demanded" to talk to one of the doctors after her pain became so severe she could not drive, walk properly or sleep.

He is convinced the lack of face-to-face contact is the reason for the six-month delay in diagnosis.

He added: "Doctors need to actually see what's happening, view the patient, see the physical problems, see the mental problems they may have as well.

"Discuss it with them face-to-face, understand how they feel and what their concerns are. You can't do that over the phone."

NHS England has now told GP surgeries to offer face-to-face appointments to any patient who wants one.

But the policy change has been met with opposition from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs. They argue Covid-19 precautions like social distancing alongside the additional workload from the vaccination programme make it difficult to meet this demand in the short-term.

"No GP wants to be a call centre GP. We're all very eager and keen to see patients face-to-face as much as possible. But the demand, the size of the waiting rooms, the social distancing, are all hampering our ability to make that happen," said Dr Tom Yerburgh from the BMA GP Committee.