COVID-19 has impacted all our lives, but for many people with urgent medical conditions unrelated to the virus, it has had a profound effect on their health. This begs the question: ‘Have patients’ lives been put at risk due to the disruption of healthcare services during the lockdown?’
One such patient, as reported in The Guardian is a Novum Law client from the Isle of Wight who did not receive vital medical care when he needed it.
Misdiagnosis And Treatment Delays
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, had been on a waiting list for a hernia operation.
On 22nd March, the day before the lockdown, his condition worsened, and he went to A&E at St. Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight NHS Trust, for urgent help. He was kept in overnight.
The following day, the hospital misdiagnosed his condition. He was told his problems were due to an inflammation of the testicles and was sent home with antibiotics.
His health continued to deteriorate. As the pain intensified, he and his wife made numerous calls to St. Mary’s Hospital, only to be denied urgent medical attention.
In desperation, his wife called at least ten different private hospitals on the mainland; but was turned away. They were informed the private hospitals had been requisitioned by the NHS. His GP also called two private hospitals on the mainland and the private wing of St Mary’s Hospital and was told the same thing.
After weeks of increasingly agonising pain, his wife dialled 999 only for the ambulance crew to be told by the hospital not to admit him. Instead, they redirected him to NHS 111 services. Fortunately, a doctor there understood the seriousness of his condition and advised that he go straight to A&E at St. Mary’s Hospital for admission – three whole weeks after his ordeal began.
By this time, he was in a serious, life-threatening condition with acute appendicitis within his hernia, sepsis infection, and necrotising fasciitis, and he needed eight invasive surgical procedures to save his life.
Speaking about their harrowing experience, our client’s wife said:
“My husband and I have worked hard all our lives. But when we needed urgent medical care, we were let down very badly. Not only was my husband sent home when he shouldn’t have been, but no matter how hard we tried, neither we, our GP, or the paramedics could arrange for a hospital to take him.
“By the time an NHS 111 doctor insisted he go straight to the hospital, he was so unwell, his life was in danger. The doctors told us it was only because he was so fit that he pulled through.
“The last three months have had a huge impact on us and our family’s lives. If the hospital had got the diagnosis right in the first place, or not discharged him when they cleared the ward on the day of the lockdown, all this would never have happened. And if they’d let him come back as soon as he needed emergency medical attention, it would have prevented him from more harm and distress.”
Patient Safety Concerns
“Our client’s health has been significantly affected due to the fact he did not receive vital medical care when he needed it. As a result, he suffered prolonged, excruciating, and avoidable, life-threatening complications, requiring eight separate trips to the theatre.
“The whole experience has been debilitating and exhausting for our client, and it has taken a huge mental and emotional toll. He had to deal with the distress of being misdiagnosed, but he has also had to endure being turned away at every turn by the medical professionals, to whom he so desperately sought urgent help. He is still unwell and has a prolonged and arduous recovery ahead of him.
“The NHS was designed to offer ‘cradle to the grave’ medical treatment for all, yet our client was not able to access urgent treatment when he needed it. To be denied not once, but several times, resulted in avoidable pain and suffering and significant distress and anguish for him and his family.
“If he had not been sent home on the day of lockdown, it would have been a different story, and he would not have had to suffer such avoidable pain and harm.
“Sadly, our client’s experience is not unique. We are increasingly hearing from more patients who have been adversely affected by the severe disruption to health services during the lockdown period.”
Lessons To Be Learned
There is no question that the dedication and commitment of frontline healthcare staff in dealing with the pandemic has been incredible.
However, many patients, like our client, have found themselves blocked from accessing the urgent treatment they need both in the NHS and the private sector. Quite simply, they have had nowhere to turn.
Our client was incredibly fortunate in that his hospital admission came just in time to prevent the loss of his life. However, many others have not been so lucky.
Lessons need to be learned. Inevitably, hard questions will need to be asked about how well the Government handled the pandemic and what can be done to improve patient safety.
If you or a family member has been affected by healthcare delays during the lockdown and you would like expert advice, call Freephone 0800 884 0777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org