Covid: Calls for dedicated surgical hubs in the UK as Indian variant spreads

Nearly five million patients in England are now waiting on operations as backlog grows

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to a healthcare worker at a hospital in Colchester, England. Getty
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to a healthcare worker at a hospital in Colchester, England. Getty

Surgeons in the UK want the government to set up dedicated centres to deal with the backlog of operations delayed because of the pandemic.

Nearly five million people are waiting for National Health Service treatment in England, the highest figure since records began in 2007. More than 400,000 of them have been waiting for more than a year.

The two waves of the pandemic in Britain piled huge pressure on health services and forced non-urgent procedures to be cancelled.

The Royal College of Surgeons called for special hospital sites to be set up to deal with operations such as hip and knee replacements.

The college said there should be about 40 sites funded by an extra £1 billion ($1.42bn) a year in government spending.

Carrying out operations in specialist centres could reduce the risk of patients contracting Covid-19 while being treated for an unrelated ailment.

Polling on behalf of the college found that 73 per cent of adults would be willing to travel to a dedicated surgical site, even if it was not their nearest hospital.

Call for NHS to prepare for future crises

“Surgery must be available on the NHS all year round, not stop and start,” said the college's president, Prof Neil Mortensen.

“If a dangerous new variant of Covid-19 takes hold, or another bad flu arrives in the autumn, we cannot allow surgery to grind to a halt again or waiting lists will become insurmountable.”

Elective surgery was cancelled for a month in 2018 because of a sharp increase in flu cases.

“We need government support for a ‘New Deal for Surgery’ to reduce the colossal backlog in elective surgery and to help the NHS weather future pandemics,” Prof Mortensen said.

The NHS in England this month unveiled a £160 million plan to carry out more operations by introducing methods including carrying out assessments at home and having specialist staff work on Saturdays.

The NHS said the backlog was caused by the need to treat about 400,000 virus patients over the past year.

Hospitals also had to limit their capacity to stem the spread of Covid-19 among patients.

Despite this measure, figures revealed this week that more than 8,700 people died after catching the virus in hospitals in England.

One in seven patients admitted to hospital during the pandemic are thought to have contracted Covid-19 while receiving treatment.

More than 3,000 grieving relatives launched legal action against the government and wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a public inquiry.

Updated: May 28, 2021 01:04 PM

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