ALLOWING mutant Covid to spread will leave the NHS unable to treat heart attacks, cancer and emergencies, a top doctor has warned.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, today said that without reducing transmission of coronavirus, there won’t be capacity in hospitals to treat other illnesses.
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It comes as one of the NHS’s biggest hospitals has been forced to cancel urgent cancer surgery this week after a surge in Covid patients needing intensive care beds.
King’s College hospital in south London postponed all “priority two” cancer operations – procedures that need to be done within 28 days of the decision to undertake them – on Monday and Tuesday.
Staff at the hospital now fear patients could see their cancer spread or become inoperable as a result, the Guardian reports.
If we don’t reduce the transmission of the virus, there won’t be that capacity
Professor Neil Mortensen
Prof Mortensen told Times Radio: “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.
“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 that we’re really not going to be any bit in any better shape (until) summer I’m afraid.
“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.”
Sun columnist and stage 4 bowel cancer patient, Deborah James, has warned the third national lockdown could lead to another backlog and urged people not to ignore signs of the disease.
Speaking on ITV’s Lorraine this morning, she said: “Cancer referral rates dropped by 75 per cent in the first lockdown.
“People were just left with undiagnosed cancers, sitting at home worrying about a lump or bump or a change in bowel habits, and didn’t go to their GP.
“As a result we had a backlog and we sadly had lives lost.
“Cancer hasn’t gone anywhere because Covid is around – my message is clear, and it should have been said last night, but the NHS is open for all.”
But some experts fear the third national lockdown isn’t enough to stop the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the lockdown announced yesterday will clearly save tens of thousands of lives.
“The threat we’re facing is at least as bad as we were back in March.
“I think the virus is different and it may be that the lockdown measures we had are not enough so we need to learn from the new insights and new technologies, we need to learn from the last lockdown and particularly some of the things we saw.
The threat we’re facing is at least as bad as we were back in March
“I think this time round we really need to use this lockdown to bear down on the virus in a way that can protect key workers – for example, we could be using the lateral flow (tests) and working with employers to offer regular testing to key workers.
“We have millions of these and key workers will still be out there and we can protect them and reduce rates in key workers through that method, especially if we also make sure we pay for their isolation when they’re infected.”
JAB ROLL OUT
The Government has pinned its hopes on the mass vaccination roll out as the country’s route out of lockdown.
Almost 14 million people could be in line for a Covid vaccine by the middle of February, in line with plans announced by the Prime Minister.
In a TV address announcing the third national lockdown for England, Boris Johnson said officials were hoping for all people in the top four priority groups to have been offered a jab in the coming weeks.
Tweeting afterwards, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said the NHS “family will come together” to get 13.9 million doses prepared for the most vulnerable by the middle of next month.
A source told the PA news agency that those near the top of the list will be contacted by mid-February, but the final figure could be lower – closer to 13 million – because of some crossover between groups, such as those over 80 who live in care homes.
Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Johnson outlined the NHS’s “realistic expectations” for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks.
He said: “By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”
Theoretically, this means that all people over the age of 70 should expect to have an inoculation soon, as well as healthcare staff and others who are vulnerable.
Top of the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by people over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers – including NHS staff.
Next on the list are people over the age 75, and the fourth group are people aged 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
This last group – who are the same as those who have been advised to shield – includes people such as organ transplant recipients and cancer patients.
Mr Johnson said of the top four priority groups: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus”.
“And of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we’ve endured for so long.”
The news comes on the same day the first patients received the Oxford/Astra Zeneca jab, which is now being handed out alongside the Pfizer vaccine.
The Prime Minister referred to the existence of the vaccines as the “one huge difference” in fighting the pandemic now compared to last year.
“We’re now rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history,” he added.