Coronavirus in Scotland: 120,000 operations cancelled since pandemic began

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Up to 120,000 operations have been postponed in Scotland due to the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures show.

From March to September, 123,500 fewer planned surgeries have taken place compared to the same period in 2019, a drop of 38.4 per cent.

This year there were 65,589 planned operations from March to September, with 189,081 the previous year.

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New figures from Public Health Scotland show operation rates are steadily rising, with 17,056 taking place in September 2020 compared to 13,831 in August and 11,224 in July.

But they are still far off previous figures, with 27,704 planned operations taking place in September 2019.

Health boards across Scotland were asked to postpone all non-urgent elective treatment from March 17 when the NHS was placed into emergency measures.

Some non-urgent surgeries began to resume from June 19, as NHS services began to remobilise.

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In September 2020, 1,120 operations, or 6.6 per cent of all planned operations, were cancelled the day before or on the day the patient was due to be treated. The majority (3.2 per cent) were cancelled due to clinical reasons, a reflection of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This compares to 2,412 procedures, or 8.7 per cent, which were cancelled in September 2019. In 2019 the most common cause was cancellation by the patient.

Several health boards have recently announced the cancellation of non-urgent elective procedures, as well as the closure of wards to new admissions in order to focus on responding to the pandemic.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde confirmed last week that 17 wards had been closed, alongside six in the Lothians, five in Tayside and 27 beds in NHS Lanarkshire.

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NHS Lothian said that 37 non-urgent elective procedures had been recently cancelled, while NHS Lanarkshire had cancelled 18 procedures and 22 outpatients had not been admitted.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh has previously called for “Covid-free” hubs at hospitals so that surgery can continue to take place in areas with lower risks of transmission.

President of the College Professor Michael Griffin warned of an approaching crisis because of the huge backlog in elective operations.

“If we are to maintain crucial services such as diagnostic testing and cancer surgery at this stage of the pandemic, these measures have to be in place to protect healthcare workers and patients,” he said.

“We are on the verge of another crisis point for preservation of elective work, so it is more important than ever that adequate infrastructure is in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19 within hospitals.

“For over six months we have been talking about the importance of “Covid-free” or “low risk” hubs, in order to allow crucial operations to take place in designated hospital areas with a minimal risk of the viral transmission.”

Professor Griffin raised concerns that these hubs will not be possible until rigorous testing and social distancing measures are put in place at hospitals nationwide, following a small survey which suggested that members of the College found a “lack of infrastructure” to support these measures at hospitals around the UK.

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