Pensioner dies of lung cancer after treatment was delayed due to Covid

Pensioner, 73, dies of lung cancer after treatment ‘that could have given him a few more years’ was delayed for three months due to Covid

  • Malachy Watkins, 73, from Stevenage, died 12 days ago from lung cancer
  • Treatment, which should have restarted in March, was delayed for three months 
  • Wife knew he couldn’t be cured but had hoped for ‘a few more years together’ 

A pensioner died of lung cancer after treatment which ‘could have given him a few more years’ was delayed for three months because of coronavirus. 

Malachy Watkins, 73, from Stevenage, died 12 days ago after his cancer treatment, which should have restarted in March, was delayed for three months.

His distraught wife Sheila, 71, told The Times she and her husband knew his cancer couldn’t be cured but ‘we had hoped that we may have a few more years together.’

Pensioner Malachy Watkins, 73, from Stevenage, died of lung cancer after treatment which ‘could have given him a few more years’ was delayed for three months because of coronavirus

Mr Watkins had successful treatment last year which had shrunk his tumours and he had been on a schedule of three-monthly check-ups before the pandemic struck. 

In February, he was given the news his cancer had returned but medics decided that because of the coronavirus situation it would be too risky to restart treatment. 

Mr Watkins, who was married to his wife for almost 53 years, was among thousands of patients who were left in a similar situation after the focus of the NHS was shifted to dealing with coronavirus.

His wife told The Times, ‘We knew in our hearts that it wasn’t a cure but we had hoped that we may have a few more years together.

‘But they then said that because of the coronavirus situation it would be too risky for them to start treatment.’

Mr Watkins did finally start treatment at the end of May but had already started to become unwell.

He had pain in his chest and back and ended up with a collapsed lung. 

He did start chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment at Lister Hospital, in Stevenage, but his weakened body could not cope and so the interventions had to stop.

Mrs Watkins believes that if treatment had started when it was originally due to – at the start of February – her husband was then ‘well in himself’ and would have been able to tolerate it more.

She added that dealing with NHS services during the past few months had been a ‘nightmare’.

He died 12 days ago after his cancer treatment, which should have restarted in March, was delayed for three months

She was unable to go into hospital with her husband for appointments, even though he had lost his voice .

When Mr Watkins was admitted to hospital for the final time, in September, and was gravely ill, his and his wife’s children were not allowed to visit them until very late.

Their adult son Craig told The Times that by the time he got onto his father’s ward – after being forced to complete a risk assessment – he was taking his ‘final breaths’. 

He said he and his sister had no time with him in his final moments. 

Mrs Watkins said she does not want the NHS to ‘forgo everything else for the sake of coronavirus.’  

Nick Carver, chief executive at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust which runs Lister Hospital, said: ‘We offer our sincere condolences to Mr Watkins’ loved ones at this incredibly sad time.

‘Cancer treatment continued throughout the pandemic for all patients for who it was safe to do so, and we have worked in partnership with the independent sector to maintain high levels of activity in line with all national guidance. 

‘The pandemic has been a global health challenge and we have had to work very differently to keep patients, staff and visitors as safe as possible.’

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed cancer patients will only be guaranteed treatment if Covid-19 stays ‘under control’. 

In February, Mr Watkins was given the news his cancer had returned after successful treatment last year, but medics decided that because of the coronavirus situation it would be too risky to restart treatment. Pictured: He was treated at Lister Hospital in Stevenage

Mr Hancock claimed that it was ‘critical for everybody to understand the best way to keep cancer services running is to suppress the disease’, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of patients may face delays to planned surgery and chemotherapy, if the outbreak continues to spiral.

Vital operations were cancelled and patients missed out on potentially life-saving therapy in the spring because tackling Covid-19 became the sole focus of the health service, instead of cancer and other cruel diseases.

Almost 2.5million people missed out on cancer screening, referrals or treatment at the height of lockdown, even though the NHS was never overwhelmed — despite fears it would be crippled by the pandemic.

Experts now fear the number of people dying as a result of delays triggered by the treatment of coronavirus patients could even end up being responsible for as many deaths as the pandemic itself.

Surgeons have worriedly called for hospital beds to be ‘ring-fenced’ for planned operations during the pandemic, to avoid the upheaval of spring where patients faced a ‘tsunami of cancellations’ as the health service focused on battling coronavirus.

But in a bruising appearance in the House of Commons today, Mr Hancock warned Covid-19 could once again disrupt cancer treatment and told MPs that controlling the virus would allow the NHS to ‘recover the treatment that we need to for cancer and other killer diseases’.

He said: ‘It’s critical for everybody to understand that the best way to keep cancer services running is to suppress the disease, and the more the disease is under control the more we can both recover and continue with cancer treatments.’  

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