Thousands of workers could be waiting for delayed medical procedures, it has emerged, with UK hospitals having cancelled at least 13,000 operations over the past two months.
According to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), some 13,061 planned procedures were cancelled during October and November, with a 5% increase in cancellations between the third and fourth weeks of November.
Dr Adrian Boyle, vice-president of the RCEM, said: “In its first week of reporting, the Royal College’s Winter Flow project 2021/22 has a stark warning for the months ahead. Nearly 7,000 elective care operations were cancelled at reporting sites in November alone. This data comes as the National Audit Office, in their latest report, predict that the elective care waiting list could reach 12 million by March 2025.
“Urgent and Emergency Care is verging on crisis and it is impacting and derailing elective care, meaning surgery for patients with serious conditions is delayed.
“The situation is unsustainable; we must see a willingness to address these crises and tackle the problems.”
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said thousands of patients had been left “waiting in limbo” for their treatment.
“NHS staff are working flat out, but as this report shows, there simply are not enough hospital beds to meet the huge demands we are seeing in the wake of the pandemic,” he said.
“Colleagues working in emergency medicine have been facing ‘winter pressures’ since the summer. Their concerns to avoid ‘corridor care’ are well-founded. An urgent effort is now required to get those patients who are fit to be discharged from hospital back into the community, freeing up beds for patients who need an operation.”
Fit for work
The RCEM’s Winter Flow Project report says the government has failed to address the short-term staffing issues that threaten the NHS this winter.
Both bodies have urged the government to increase the number of hospital beds to reach the OECD average of 2.5 to 4.7 per 1,000 people.
Official statistics published by NHS England show the number of general and acute hospital beds fell from 110,568 in 2010/11 to 96,998 in 2021/22.
Last month the British Heart Foundation warned that twenty times more people than before the pandemic were waiting more than six weeks to have a heart scan in England, which was putting lives at risk. In the summer the charity estimated that the pandemic-related backlog in heart surgery and treatment could take five years to clear.