The pandemic’s impact on surgery

Surgery is something that’s taken a backseat during the coronavirus pandemic. People who had been scheduled in for routine operations are now having to wait for unknown lengths of time to get the treatment they need.

However, it is not just those waiting for routine procedures who have been affected.

People with serious conditions who require urgent treatment are having appointments delayed while hospitals try to avoid being overwhelmed by the Covid-19 crisis, potentially putting their lives at risk.

Cancer patients

There may be hope for those with cancer, however. The Health Service Journal (HSJ) has obtained a letter sent by the chief operating officer of NHS England and NHS Improvement and signed by the NHS national cancer director and the NHS national clinical director for cancer.

The letter instructs hospitals to keep carrying out urgent cancer surgeries – despite the pressures the pandemic is putting on intensive care units and staff levels.

The letter told regional cancer directors that they must ensure that provision for Priority One (P1) and Priority Two (P2) – the most urgent – is “prioritised alongside that for patients with Covid”.

It comes after rising numbers of hospitals – particularly in London and the South East – have cancelled urgent operations. The HSJ reported that hospitals in Cheshire, the West Midlands and other areas have cancelled P2 surgeries, which is when treatment is required within four weeks.

Never events

And if possible delays to life-saving surgery wasn’t worrying enough, the NHS has just published the never events that took place between April 2019 and March 2020.

A never event is a serious, preventable patient safety incident that should not happen if healthcare providers have implemented national guidance or recommendations.

In the above period, 472 incidents met the definition of a never event, while a further 30 serious incidents did not.

The most common never event was wrong site surgery, with 226 incidents reported. Retaining a foreign object post-procedure was the second most common never event, with 101 recorded.

A return to normal

The NHS will only return to a more normal state and carry out more surgeries when Covid-19 infection levels start falling – and stay low.

With a new record high in the number of Covid-related deaths seen this week, a new strain of the virus to contend with and more businesses staying open during this lockdown than in 2020’s first one, it may be many months before this happens.

Image copyright: Gorodenkoff