Posted by Helen Childs, Partner
Covid-19, mesothelioma and you
Helen Childs, specialist industrial disease solicitor and head of our Mesothelioma Claims team, explains what we have learned from the impact of coronavirus on mesothelioma patients.
We are all living in unprecedented times. So much of the world is in lockdown in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19, and it is a particularly difficult and worrying time for any individuals and families affected by mesothelioma, or those who are unwell and as yet undiagnosed.
The challenges of Covid-19 for mesothelioma care
So many of our amazing specialist mesothelioma nurses remain diverted to the NHS front line, with several working in Intensive Care or on the wards treating covid-positive patients, and much of the normal running of the NHS has been put on hold to allow it to cope as well as possible. The normal cancer referral pathways – including for mesothelioma – have been disrupted because of delay in seeking advice due to a natural reluctance to see GPs for fear of infection, and the typical early symptoms of mesothelioma – including shortness or breath and a persistent cough – being so easily confused with the onset of Covid-19. The NHS is very keen to encourage anyone with worrying new symptoms not to delay in seeking medical advice.
Those already diagnosed with mesothelioma are facing delays to the start of their treatment regimes, with ongoing treatment and many clinical trials also being paused. Access to palliative care is more difficult, and those in hospital and hospices can be left feeling very isolated as visitor numbers are considerably restricted or banned. Even access to supermarket delivery slots has been difficult. The worry and uncertainty this new situation causes is considerable.
Meeting the challenges and the positives we can take from the current situation
In an effort to help, charities like Meso UK and support groups have embraced and championed online services, to try and relieve the isolation and answer practical questions posed by those affected. It would be nice to think that this online support could continue even when face to face meetings and support are possible again, as they enable charities and support groups to reach out to so many more families, including people unable to travel for support. The NHS have also been able to innovate and offer online consultations and remote Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meetings – offering the possibility of help for patients without the difficulty of travelling to hospital, and the inefficiencies and inevitable delays caused by medics travelling to face to face MDT’s to discuss diagnosis and any treatment options.
For those in hospital and hospices, the increased use of technology to keep in touch with families (I even saw a treatment chart on twitter today with “face time with family” prescribed twice a day) is something to be embraced as an addition to care and treatment in the future.
Despite the anguish caused by a delay in any treatment being commenced, hopefully what will turn out to be a relatively short delay shouldn’t adversely affect the outcome of that treatment for most. The human spirit and willingness to find the silver lining in every cloud is humbling to hear.
For example, one of my clients, who underwent an Extra Pleural Pneumonectomy in the Autumn before commencing chemotherapy, was finding the chemotherapy so gruelling she was really worried she would be unable to complete the course. Despite the worry caused by her treatment being paused she is hoping the additional recovery from her op and the first couple of cycles of each week brings will put her in a much better state to embark on the remaining chemotherapy, and hopefully then immunotherapy as well.
There are several things about the current situation that are genuinely uplifting and will hopefully bode well for the future. The upsurge of goodwill for the NHS and the way it has been able to cut through layers of bureaucracy to become a much more cohesive whole hopefully makes it more difficult for any government to fail to fund and support it better.
The uncertainty charities face over their income streams will hopefully be balanced to some extent by what feels like a real increase in community engagement and fundraising efforts – witness the recent 2.6 challenge. It’s so important we all continue to pull together and help in any way we can those charities and organisations that support families with mesothelioma at the moment.
How Covid-19 is impacting upon mesothelioma claims
For those pursuing compensation claims, your law firm is hopefully geared up to work from home to continue to support you and your family at this difficult time. The insurers dealing with your claim for the defendants seem, in the most part, to be less well prepared and less able to adapt than the claimants law firms.
The Judges and administrative staff in the High Court based in London, that hears most asbestos claims, have always been very accessible and responsive – most hearings up to the trials themselves (which are incredibly rare) have historically been held by telephone for many years, so much of the court is still able to function well. Trials and hearings to assess the compensation payable are now being held remotely too. Hopefully this means that for many, when something approaching normal life begins to return, your lawyer will have been able to use the fact many defendant insurers are less well able to function to gain tactical advantages in your claim, and to issue and progress court proceedings and make sure that procedurally they are able to ensure that you can access bespoke and/or private medical treatment as soon as it’s appropriate to do so.
Obviously nothing can compensate you or your loved one for their illness. However the principle of compensation is supposed to be to put you in the same position you would have been if you had not been unwell. We are, as a law firm, currently seeking enhanced compensation particularly for our clients who are self-isolating because of their mesothelioma diagnosis, and all the additional expenses that flow from these difficult times.
Just like we are being encouraged not to delay in seeking medical advice, early legal advice can be really important. Mesothelioma UK have recently launched a panel of eight legal firms who specialise in claims for mesothelioma, and who have all signed up to a charter to ensure high standards of advice and care.
It can be really difficult for anyone recently given bad news about their diagnosis to know where to turn to for legal advice, and hopefully the newly launched Meso UK legal panel will really help you and your family navigate through what is often a confusing route to specialist legal advice.
If you have any questions for our team, please contact us today.
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