Surgery services to run at just 60 per cent of normal levels for two years

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic means surgery services will run at about 60 per cent of normal levels for the next two years, a Scottish Government report has revealed.

New policies are being developed to ensure fair access to the “limited surgical resource” as the health service recovers from the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Discussing the recovery of cancer surgery, the report says health boards should set up clinical prioritisation groups (CPGs) to ensure non-essential procedures do not restart on an ad-hoc basis.

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Cancer Research UK said there was “huge concern” patients may not receive the best treatment.

The report says: “Current estimates are that surgery services will operate in most health boards at around 60 per cent of pre-Covid levels for the next 24 months, and perhaps longer if there are further surges in Covid-19 incidence.

“Scottish Government therefore recommends that health boards (and hospitals) implement local governance policies to ensure fair and reasonable access to a limited surgery resource in terms of both hospital beds and elective green-site theatre capacity.”

The report sets out a framework for classifying patients into five groups, ranging from “priority level one” cases, where surgery is needed within 72 hours, to “priority level four”, where surgery can be safely scheduled after 12 weeks.

At the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said urgent treatments should still be going ahead and returning services to normal was a “priority”.

Chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen said the health service was looking into making use of facilities such as the NHS Louisa Jordan emergency hospital or remote consultations.

She said: “It’s our dearest wish that anyone who needs any kind of treatment or care within the NHS gets it. But what people in Scotland need to know is that we are absolutely prioritising those that are urgent and cannot wait.

“So not everything is immediate and urgent, but certainly we will be expecting to see our cancer patients being treated and we are doing everything we possibly can.”

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Marion O’Neill, from the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s of huge concern that patients may not be able to receive the best possible treatment for their cancer.

“It’s clear from this report that Covid-19 has already had, and will continue to have, a significant impact.

“For some people, surgery can be a cure. Patients can receive other treatments, such as radiotherapy, in some cases.

“But this won’t always be possible, so it’s extremely worrying that it’s anticipated that surgical services will operate on such a profoundly reduced basis.”

Ms O’Neill added: “It’s vital health boards and the Scottish Government continue to work together to make the most effective use of existing staff, equipment and approaches to care to address this backlog and ensure as many patients as possible can receive timely surgery.”

Research released earlier this month has indicated Britain faces the prospect of up to 35,000 excess deaths within the next 12 months as a result of delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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