Cancer operations may be postponed if Covid-19 overwhelms hospitals, health chief warns

He told Times Radio: “My colleagues in London doing ward rounds for example report that there are problems with staff numbers on the wards, staff numbers in theatres, then of course if you need to go to the intensive care unit, if the intensive care unit is full of Covid patients, there is no room for you.

“So, it’s a really serious situation.”

The Professor of Colorectal Surgery at the University of Oxford Medical School added: “Obviously, the less priority operations have already stopped in many places, hips, knees, ENT (ear, nose and throat) procedures, and we are now concerned about operations like cancer surgeries being cancelled or postponed because there is just isn’t the capacity to be able to manage them.”  

He believes it will take until the summer before the NHS can return towards normality after the epidemic is brought fully under control.

“There needs to be space in our hospitals for us to deal with all the other things – the heart attacks or strokes, the cancer surgeries and emergency surgery,” added.

“We have to be able to keep capacity to do those. And if we don’t reduce the transmission of the virus, there won’t be that capacity.”

When asked whether the NHS will be able to return to normal business by late spring, he added: “I’m afraid I’m one of the pessimists I think this is going to drag on a bit.

“I think it’s going to take a long time. This is a very, very, very serious situation.

“There’ll be an enormous backlog of elective surgeries, and we may have backlogs of some more urgent surgeries to get through as well so it’s going to be a long tough, hard winter and spring.”

Another leading health expert said tens of thousands of lives will be saved by the third national lockdown announced by Boris Johnson yesterday.

However, Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government’s  Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, warned that the tough restrictions alone may not be enough to fully reverse the surge in cases.

The Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The lockdown announced yesterday will clearly save tens of thousands of lives.

“The threat that we are facing is at least as bad as we were back in March.

“But the virus is different and it may be that the lockdown measures that we have are not enough so we need to learn from the new insights and new technologies, we need to learn from the last lockdown.”

He stressed that more support needed to be given to people in deprived communities to help them to follow the lockdown rules, with an “army” of volunteers helping to combat the virus, and rapid Covid tests should also be offered to more key workers.


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