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Cancer care under threat as NHS loses covid private sector back-up

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Cancer surgery in London is under threat as rising covid admissions put pressure on services that no longer have back-up capacity from the independent sector, HSJ has learned.

Research by HSJ has discovered that NHS England ended contracts with HCA, The London Clinic and the Cromwell Hospital at the end of August, after concerns about underutilisation.

Under the previous deal with the private sector, rules were in place to make sure low-priority private patients were not treated ahead of NHS patients who needed surgery urgently.

HCA and The Cromwell have confirmed the contracts were ended in August and were not renewed. The London Clinic did not respond to a request for comment.

As of 19 December, there were 2,909 covid inpatients being treated in London hospitals, a rise of 39% over the previous seven days. Barts Health Trust and Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust in the east of the city are under particular pressure.

Should the number of covid patients reach a level that requires the capital to instigate surge protocols, theatre space set aside for cancer operations is likely to be commandeered. Under this scenario, the NHS in the capital would no longer have the option to transfer cancer patients to private facilities as it did during the first wave of the pandemic.

A senior London-based source said: “This is a real and imminent threat to London’s ability to perform cancer surgery."

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Source: HSJ, 21 December 2020

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