Fears around COVID-19 have delayed vital diagnosis of mesothelioma | Fieldfisher
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Fears around COVID-19 have delayed vital diagnosis of mesothelioma

There has been discussion in the news recently that a cancer crisis risks replacing the COVID-19 crisis. Fewer patients have attended hospital check-ups and investigations over the past 14 months, either through fear of further pressurising the NHS, because they have struggled to access GP appointments, or because there has been a higher threshold for referral during lockdowns.

Some reports suggest that lung cancer diagnosis may be one of the worst affected by the pandemic due to symptoms overlapping with those of COVID-19, and because respiratory services are already severely impacted.

This also applies to mesothelioma, the cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs, also caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. Mesothelioma can take months of investigation to diagnose since the symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, are often attributed to other conditions or illnesses at the early stages of investigation.

The symptoms of these two types of cancer may also initially be mistaken for COVID-19 symptoms, since a persistent cough and high temperature are common symptoms of both. For these reasons, it has sadly been the case that over the past 14 months patients have not been referred as quickly as they should have been for further investigation, or there simply haven’t been the resources to investigate respiratory conditions thoroughly.

Mesothelioma has an incredibly short prognosis, and it is therefore vital diagnosis is sought as early as possible. This is also important when pursuing a civil claim for negligent asbestos exposure that has caused the mesothelioma, since obtaining evidence from the patient as to how they were exposed is a crucial part of any claim.

We are already seeing clients who have not been seen in person by their GP for more than a year and therefore the progression of their illness has not been properly documented.

One of our clients had a historical claim for asbestosis, but was later diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer. Due to the terms of the settlement, he was able to open a second claim for asbestos-related lung cancer, but because his symptoms began during the first lockdown, he did not visit his GP or hospital frequently and his symptoms have not been properly documented. We are relying on evidence provided by his widow to determine when his symptoms began, but this would not be possible in every case.

The lack of documentation of the progression of a client's illness also impacts the three-year time limit within which to bring court proceedings against a negligent employer responsible for the asbestos exposure. This three-year period runs from the date the patient should have known they were suffering from an asbestos-related disease, even in the absence of formal diagnosis.

The pressure on the NHS during the pandemic has been phenomenal, but it is concerning that victims of asbestos exposure are not receiving a formal diagnosis at the earliest opportunity, despite experiencing symptoms. Too many are potentially being deprived of access to support, government benefits and compensation.