Patients across the UK are having “urgent” cancer operations cancelled by hospitals as the NHS struggles to cope with its deepening winter crisis.
In some instances, patients say they have only been given a day’s notice that their surgery has been postponed as increasing patient numbers are placing intolerable pressure on beds and staff.
Previously, cancer operations were protected because of their urgent nature, but this appears to have given way since the start of the year due to a demand for beds and lack of social care capacity.
Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), 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.”
Investigations by The Observer reveal that cancer surgeries started to be cancelled in December, with the trend gathering pace as the New Year unfolds.
The NHS said it was “pulling out all the stops” to ensure patients receive surgery “as quickly as possible”.
An NHS England spokesman said: “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.”
Cancer patients should be seen within 31 days and 85% should receive primary treatment within 62, according to NHS guidelines for hospitals in England. However, in November last year, the 62-day target for primary treatment to start was missed, with 83.5% of patients being treated in that timeframe.
Ian Eardley, vice president of the RCS, said the majority of hospitals were able to see more than 90% of patients within the target time period, but in the past year it had been “more difficult to achieve”.
He added that while cancer operations are indeed cancelled from “time-to-time” – especially during the winter months – the RCS had seen a rise in the number of cancellations occurring since the beginning of January.
In one case highlighted by The Observer’s investigations, a patient, who was due to undergo a radical robotic prostatectomy at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust on 7 January, received an email the day before saying his treatment had been postponed.
The email stated there was a “lack of inpatient beds” and that all three of the trust’s planned surgical cases for that particular day had been cancelled as a result.
A telephone call to inform the patient would have been more appropriate given the circumstances. An email runs the risk of not being received or seen, which could lead to the patient still attending his/her appointment, incurring unnecessary costs and stress.
A recent survey indicated more than half of Britons (53%) would be willing to pay higher National Insurance contributions – from 12 to 13% – so the extra revenue could be invested in the NHS.
This is a concern for any Cancer sufferer being treated through the NHS. It can be difficult enough to cope with a cancer diagnosis without having to deal with a delayed operation.
The 53% of Britons who are prepared to pay higher NIS Contributions might want to look at the option of Private Healthcare.
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