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Pandemic has made gynaecology delays worse

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Medical Negligence Paralegal, Mahira Butt comments: “We can all appreciate that there is a backlog of cases that the NHS must deal with and priority must be given to people with life-threatening conditions, but surely gynaecology should be given the same focus as comparable specialties. Many suspect there is an element of gender bias in the system. The voices of women are not being listened to as they should be – the recent Ockenden Report into maternity services concluded as much.”

Problems with delays in gynaecology appointments, potentially leading to delayed diagnosis of some serious conditions, were around before the pandemic, but the Covid-19 backlog has made things much worse for many more women. Gynaecology waiting lists in England have risen by 60% during the pandemic - more sharply than any other medical specialty.

Today, 456,938 women are on a gynaecology waiting list, with more than 1,300 women waiting two years for an appointment. Before COVID, 66 patients were waiting more than a year for treatment. Now, that has increased to almost 25,000 and some commentators suggest these numbers do not reflect the true scale of the problem.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) concedes that, while the NHS is seeing record waiting lists across the board (currently more than six million, which the National Audit Office expects to rise to as much as 12 million in the next few years) gynaecology patients seem to be consistently overlooked and made to go ‘to the back of the queue’.

Many women have been referred for specialist gynaecological examination and treatment with conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids, which can affect fertility. These painful and debilitating conditions are progressive and if left untreated, they can potentially require more complex and invasive surgery, with all the risks that involves. According to Endometriosis UK, it takes on average around eight years from the onset of symptoms for women to finally get a diagnosis, largely they claim because those symptoms are dismissed by healthcare professionals.  There have been examples of women suffering from cripplingly painful endometriosis who are still awaiting a date for surgery for almost two years after their initial referral and diagnosis, struggling with no support or advice on pain management.

However, it is the potential for overlooking even more serious medical problems due to these delays in referral and commencement of treatment that concerns medical negligence paralegal, Mahira Butt. A case in point is a Shoosmiths client with an ongoing civil claim who was diagnosed with endometriosis following a delay in diagnosis and timely intervention of a daughter cyst on her ovary.

The cyst was identified in early 2021 following a scan, but no action was taken by the defendant hospital. Indeed, it was only until our client visited a private consultant that she was informed of her diagnosis of a daughter cyst. As a result, she continued to suffer with awful symptoms such as severe abdominal pains. However, her complaints and symptoms were consistently dismissed.  The cyst grew quite large and after much struggle, she finally underwent surgery in December 2021.

Mahira concludes:

“The authorities must start listening to women, not only about their assumed problems but also to make a more timely identification of other potentially more serious, undiscovered, and undiagnosed conditions.”

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Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022

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