Hospitals across UK cancelling 'urgent' cancer operations as NHS winter crisis worsens

'Extremely worrying' for families, says president of Royal College of Surgeons

Jon Sharman
Sunday 15 January 2017 11:28
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Hospitals are cancelling previously protected cancer operations
Hospitals are cancelling previously protected cancer operations

Hospitals across the UK are cancelling "urgent" cancer operations as the NHS winter crisis worsens.

Some patients have reportedly been told with just a day's notice that their surgery has been postponed, with a leading surgeon saying it was "extremely worrying" that hospitals had resorted to the decisions.

Cancer operations have previously held a protected status but the demand for beds and lack of social care capacity has encroached on that.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told The Observer: "Feedback from our members suggests that since the start of January, a large number of hospitals across the UK are now cancelling cancer surgery. This will be extremely worrying to patients and their families.

"It is heartbreaking for a surgeon to have to explain to a patient who has cancer that their operation has had to be cancelled as there are no beds available. It is increasingly clear that no part of the system and no patient is immune from the pressure the NHS is experiencing."

The Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the House of Commons' health select committee, wrote in the British Medical Journal: "The political response to a health and care system in severe distress, and more importantly to the people it serves, has been dismal.

"There has been a failure to grasp the scale of the financial challenge facing both health and social care and the consequences and inefficiency of their continuing separation."

The Observer found the first cancellations of cancer surgeries came in December and that the trend had sped up this year. In Leeds, it said, doctors pointed to a lack of intensive care recovery beds that had forced their hand.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Everyone in the NHS will be pulling out all the stops to make sure all patients get their surgery as quickly as possible. There has been a steady increase in operations over the last 15 years but, despite this, the NHS is helping more people survive cancer than ever before."

Dr Wollaston hit out at the Government after Downing Street said GP surgeries were not doing enough to meet NHS commitments to see patients twelve hours a day, seven days a week amid the growing crisis, leaving hospitals unable to cope with demand.

She told The Independent: "I can’t see that there’s anything to be gained by trying to scapegoat a section of the primary care community at a point where they are understaffed, under pressure, and frankly demoralised."

On Friday a survey indicated more than half of Britons – 53 per cent – supported increasing National Insurance from 12 to 13 per cent so the extra revenue could be invested in the NHS. 26 per cent opposed the idea.

It came after Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, told MPs the health service "got less than we asked for" in funding, directly contradicting Prime Minister Theresa May.

Funding has been "back-ended" to the end of the decade and will actually fall in real terms in 2018-19, he said. Her claim to have added more money was "stretching it", he said.

Ms May had said Mr Stevens' five-year forward plan "would require £8bn of extra spending, we've actually put £10bn of extra spending in".

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