Urgent cancer surgery is being cancelled as hospitals do not have space for non-Covid patients.
Soaring admissions mean bosses in London and Kent say they had no choice but to take the drastic step so they can deal with emergency virus cases.
In London, where hospitals are close to being overwhelmed, surgical theatres and recovery wards usually be used for operations have been turned into Covid wards.
Doctors fear heart attack and stroke patients could also become collateral victims of the new lockdown, with a huge fall in the number of non-virus patients attending A&E. The first lockdown was blamed for tens of thousands of excess non-Covid deaths.
Urgent cancer surgery is being cancelled as hospitals do not have space for non-Covid patients (stock image)
The NHS had pledged to keep cancer treatment going throughout the winter but patients have had operations cancelled at the last minute.
Surgery would require an intensive care bed for the patient to recover in – but in many hospitals all ICU beds are taken up treating Covid. Operations classed as Priority Two – deemed so urgent they must be done within 28 days – have been called off at hospitals including King’s College London. It said: ‘A small number of cancer patients due to be operated on this week have had their surgery postponed, with patients being kept under close review by senior doctors.
‘Due to the large increase in patients being admitted with Covid-19, including those requiring intensive care, we have taken the difficult decision to postpone all elective procedures, with the exception of cases where a delay would cause immediate harm.’
Any delay to cancer surgery risks the tumour growing and the disease spreading, reducing survival chances.
The Health Service Journal reported that cancellations were ‘rife’ across London, with almost all non-emergency surgery scrapped.
Thousands of elective operations, such as knee and hip replacements, had already been called off. Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told Times Radio: ‘Over the weekend we talked about a slow-motion car crash, but I think it’s getting much worse than that now.
‘My colleagues in London report that there are problems with staff numbers on the wards, staff numbers in theatres.’
Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We still must make sure that cancer doesn’t become “the forgotten C”. It is imperative that people expecting tests and treatment face minimal disruption.’
Kruti Shrotri, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: ‘It’s extremely concerning to hear that cancer surgery is being delayed in some parts of the country, and this shows just how much the NHS is struggling to cope. We know NHS staff are doing everything they can. We’re doing all we can to support the NHS to protect cancer services.
Soaring admissions mean bosses in London and Kent say they had no choice but to take the drastic step so they can deal with emergency virus cases (stock image)
‘Anyone who thinks they might have signs or symptoms of cancer, please go and see your GP – the NHS is still open to see you.’ Meanwhile, Royal College of Emergency Medicine vice president Dr Adrian Boyle said attendances at A&E by non-virus patients has fallen by up to 30 per cent.
‘We worry about the missing patients,’ he said. ‘People with heart attacks and strokes can be too scared to come to hospital. People are coming more severely ill because they have waited too long to get help. We want to get the message out that if you do go to hospital we will do everything we can to look after you.’ He warned that the surge in Covid patients is having a knock-on impact, with trolley waits in A&E at their worst level for a decade.
Professor Ravi Mahajan, the president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: ‘If we do not take decisive action to tackle this virus now, we will see increasing waiting lists which may take years to get under control.’
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘Trusts continue to treat as many elective patients as possible, and are prioritising those who have been waiting the longest, whilst maintaining cancer and urgent treatments. However, the NHS is under severe pressure.’
Sheila, 72, had her stage 3 cancer op cancelled at the last minute to make way for Covid cases. Her devastating verdict… THEY’VE LEFT A TICKING TIMEBOMB INSIDE ME
By Inderdeep Bains for the Daily Mail
Sheila Cashford has been left with a ‘ticking timebomb’ inside her after urgent bowel cancer sugery was cancelled because the hospital had a surge in Covid-19 admissions.
The 72-year-old, from Walderslade, Kent, was told she should have the life-saving operation within weeks of her stage three cancer being diagnosed last month.
But the grandmother, who was due to have surgery at Medway Hospital yesterday, was told in a phone call on New Year’s Day that it has been postponed indefinitely.
‘A nurse telephoned and said, “We are very sorry, we have had to take more Covid patients and we have had to cancel operations”,’ said a tearful Mrs Cashford.
Shei la Cashford (pictured with her husband Paul) has been left with a ‘ticking timebomb’ inside her after urgent bowel cancer sugery was cancelled because the hospital had a surge in Covid-19 admissions
The retired John Lewis retail assistant has already lost her father, sister and brother-inlaw to cancer and is now ‘petrified’ that the cancellation could mean she will suffer the same fate.
‘I’m constantly in tears and cannot sleep,’ she said. ‘We don’t know when I am going to have this operation because they don’t know themselves. If they don’t operate soon… it could go to stage four, that is the big worry. I feel like I’ve just been pushed to one side.
‘I know you’ve got to give these Covid patients treatment but what about me?
‘And I’m not the only one going through it as other operat ions have been cancelled. Every day counts for cancer patients and it’s a horrible, horrible situation – you can’t just leave people like this.’
Doctors advised the previously healthy Mrs Cashford, a mother of two, that with surgery the outcome for her cancer was positive. While stage three means it is large and has spread, it is still operable. But her family fear the delay could see it develop into stage four – often seen as terminal.
Mrs Cashford’s husband Paul, 74, to whom she has been married for more than 50 years, said: ‘I’m really worried. This cancer is a ticking timebomb inside her. The longer she waits, the less chance she has at surviving.’
The grandmother, who was due to have surgery at Medway Hospital yesterday, was told in a phone call on New Year’s Day that it has been postponed indefinitely. Pictured: Sheila and Paul on their wedding day
The couple – who previously enjoyed cycling and going on cruises together – say they are willing to travel to any other hospital in the country for the operation but have been offered no alternative and can only wait for a call from the hospital.
They blamed those who break lockdown rules for the spike in cases.
Bed occupancy at critical care units in Kent on Friday was said to have reached 137 per cent, with some 20 severely ill patients having to be transferred to hospitals outside the county.
Mrs Cashford said those who ignored the guidance over Christmas were selfish, adding: ‘They are playing with our lives, it’s people like me who are going to suffer. I can’t blame the hospital or the nurses, I blame the people who have been going out and spreading this around.’
She was also critical of the delay in locking down the country after the surge in cases. ‘The Government has not only let the NHS down they have let us all down. They should have acted as soon as this was in the country. It took too long to get proper testing, PPE and measures in place.’
Mr Cashford added: ‘It is the people who are ignoring the advice and are still going out or meeting up to have a good jolly.
‘The hospitals are at breaking point and something has to give – and it looks like it is the poor cancer patients.’
Medway NHS Foundation Trust confirmed that Mrs Cashford’s surgery and other – but not all – cancer operations had to be postponed.