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Hospitals in England told to keep performing urgent cancer surgery

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NHS bosses have instructed hospitals to keep performing urgent cancer surgery despite Covid pressures, after a growing number cancelled procedures because they did not have enough intensive care beds or available staff.

They have told England’s regional directors of cancer to ensure treatment of people who need cancer surgery within four weeks gets the same priority as care of patients who have Covid.

The move was unveiled in a letter, obtained by HSJ, sent last Friday by Amanda Pritchard, the chief operating officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement. It was also signed by Cally Palmer, the NHS’s national cancer director, and Prof Peter Johnson, a highly respected specialist who is the NHS’s national clinical director for cancer.

They have acted after unease among cancer specialists that growing numbers of hospitals, including all those in London, had cancelled urgent operations. Hospitals have felt obliged to do so either because they did not have enough intensive care beds for patients who might need one after their cancer procedure or because surgical staff had been repurposed to help care for Covid patients.

Doctors voiced alarm at the scale of recent postponements of what the NHS classes as “priority two” operations. That means they should be done within 28 days to ensure that someone with cancer does not see their disease spread or become inoperable because it was delayed.

More than 1,000 cancer patients in London are now waiting to have “priority two” or “P2” urgent surgery, but none have been given a new date for when it will happen, HSJ reported last week.

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Source: The Guardian, 18 January 2021

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