MILLIONS of people whose routine operations have been cancelled during the coronavirus crisis could have to wait five years for them to be rearranged, medics are warning.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) say they will need a five-year strategy to deal with the “mountain” of people on the elective waiting list following the pandemic.
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It comes as all non-urgent elective operations have been postponed during the coronavirus outbreak – to help the NHS cope with its greatest challenge in its 71-year history.
Surgeons and hospital staff who would be working on the operations have instead being retrained and redeployed to treat Covid-19 patients.
The RCS say the elective waiting list already stood at 4.4 million patients before the outbreak, the highest figure since records began in 2007.
Professor Derek Alderson, RCS president, told an online webinar this morning: “Numbers on the waiting list are going to rise substantially when we come out of this crisis and the longer we are restricted in ability to deliver surgery, the greater that number is going to be and the bigger the size of the catch-up process.
“We need a really good, well worked out strategy with the Government to cover a number of years — five years probably — that addresses this issue.
“We have twice the number of people waiting than ten years ago already before the Covid-19 crisis, that is unacceptable and we have to get out of it.”
NHS England asked trusts to cancel all non-urgent elective operations for “at least three months” from 15 April so the NHS has the capacity to cope with a surge in critically ill coronavirus patients.
Many trusts had already ditched all routine ops, with HSJ recently reporting more than 40 per cent of acute beds are empty.
Prof Alderson added: “We will have to undoubtedly work more as teams within organisations and across organisations.
“There is some rationalisation of surgery that is needed, but at the end of the day we are short of beds and facilities… [and] we will need more surgeons.”
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He also pointed out that NHS staff will be “exhausted” following the coronavirus criss and will need to rest before they deal with the “mountain” of elective operations.
Prof Alderson said the RCS has worked with NHSE to help decide how to prioritise patients who are waiting for elective surgery.
And he admitted they were being forced to have difficult conversations – particularly when it comes to weighing up the risk of the patient’s condition getting worse without surgery versus the risk of operating and them then getting Covid-19.
“We do not have high quality information with which to advise patients, that is really difficult and it [is] likely to persist for a while yet,” he added.
Scarlett McNally, deputy director of the Centre for Perioperative Care and consultant orthopaedic surgeon at East Sussex Healthcare Trust, raised concerns that bringing elective operations back online will be tough as hospitals “are almost at the stage where you have to presume everyone might have Covid-19 instead of presuming you can have clean facilities and dirty facilities”.
She said: “You can’t really have Covid-negative facilities. Everyone realises using [private hospitals for additional capacity] isn’t going to be clean versus dirty…”
Ms McNally said “as so few operations are being done” there is no UK experience about post-surgery risks for those people who have Covid-19 when operated on, or who contract it afterwards.
Coronavirus deaths in the UK increased again today after 761 more people died in the UK.
NHS England confirmed a healthy 20-year-old was one of 20 patients with no underlying health conditions.
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At least 12,868 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK.
Positive cases also rose to 98,476 from 93,873 as the UK continues its fourth week of lockdown.
The UK could be on lockdown until June, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak is pushing to have measures eased by May in order to save the economy.