Mesothelioma delays due to COVID-19

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Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for cancer patients. And for those with asbestos-related cancer, like mesothelioma, it is even more critical to get prompt treatment due to its shorter outlook compared with other cancers. In her latest blog, specialist asbestos solicitor Rhiannon Davies from our Cardiff office explains why mesothelioma delays are threatening patient safety.

We have all read about the significant cancer backlog the NHS is dealing with due to COVID-19. There are fears the UK faces a ‘ticking timebomb’ of missed cancer cases, with NHS England figures revealing that 350,000 patients have not been referred to hospital.

The NHS England data reveals that there were 1.85 million urgent cancer referrals made by GPs between March last year and January this year, a 16% decrease on the 2.2 million referred in the same period the year before. The harsh reality is that thousands of people could die of cancer needlessly because of the disruption to NHS cancer services.

In Wales alone, at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 in April 2020, the country experienced a 63% reduction in the number of people being referred for cancer testing.

With the proportion of cancers diagnosed while still at a curable stage dropping from 44% to 41%, much of the progress made in previous years to improve cancer survival rates is sadly, going into reverse.

Risk for mesothelioma patients

Reports suggest that respiratory cancer cases could be impacted the most because the symptoms of respiratory cancers, like lung cancer and mesothelioma, are so like COVID-19 symptoms.

For example, many patients with mesothelioma experience symptoms such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, high temperature, and fatigue. These overlapping symptoms combined with significantly over-stretched NHS cancer services, particularly respiratory services, means mesothelioma delays for patients waiting for referrals, diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for many people with mesothelioma can be short. According to Cancer Research UK, 45 out of 100 people (45%) survive their mesothelioma for one year or more after diagnosis. And just 5% of mesothelioma patients survive for five years or more after diagnosis.

That is why early diagnosis of mesothelioma is crucial so that patients can receive the appropriate treatment and care.

At Novum Law, we have seen a substantial rise in the numbers of clients with cancer who have experienced diagnosis and treatment delays due to COVID-19. Some clients have struggled to get face-to-face appointments with their GPs, while others have experienced delays getting cancer referrals and obtaining the treatment they need.

Mesothelioma delays and COVID-19 – one patient’s story

A case in point is one of Novum Law’s clients diagnosed with mesothelioma. Initially, she thought her symptoms of breathlessness and a persistent cough were caused by COVID-19.

Once a Covid test proved negative, she delayed going to see her GP because she was unfamiliar with how to use the video calling technology many GP surgeries are now using to see patients. It wasn’t until her son was able to help with the technology that she was able to have an appointment. She was then referred for tests and received her devastating mesothelioma diagnosis.

Fortunately, one benefit of the pandemic is that NICE guidelines (the rules the NHS uses to determine what treatments are available to patients) have been amended so that mesothelioma patients can now receive immunotherapy treatment as a first-line treatment. It is now possible for mesothelioma patients to receive potentially life-prolonging immunotherapy treatment at home to minimise their risk of being exposed to  COVID-19 outside the home.

This means that our client is still well enough to provide us with the information we need to pursue a civil claim for negligent asbestos exposure. In her case, the asbestos exposure was from her father, who worked as a stoker in a hospital in the 1950s and 60s. She experienced ‘secondary asbestos exposure’ because she used to wash his work overalls a few times a week, shaking out the asbestos dust before washing them by hand.

NHS pressures

COVID-19 has put unprecedented pressures on the NHS, with healthcare staff struggling to clear the cancer backlog. One Chest Clinic recently told us that they had seen 30 new lung cancer patients in May 2021, compared to around the 15 or so new patients they used to see in an average month.

Clearly, the cancer care workforce needs more support and facilities and resources need to be put in place to meet both current and future demand for services.

Novum Law is working with Mesothelioma UK to push for an All Wales Mesothelioma Interest Group. This will ensure a successful partnership working with healthcare professionals, support groups, and other agencies to help mesothelioma patients and their families.

The goal is to work with them to develop appropriate services, including the best possible treatment and access to funding. This can be achieved through successful claims for compensation for privately available medical treatment and participation in medical trials to develop future effective treatments for those with mesothelioma across Wales.

If you are concerned about any respiratory problems you are experiencing, it is essential to speak to your GP.  If you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, Novum Law’s expert team can advise you on the benefits available to you and help you make a compensation claim. Please contact us on 0800 884 0777 or email

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