Hospitals cannot shutdown again if second wave hits

Healthcare leaders are warning that the NHS will be risking the death of tens of thousands of patients if it shuts down normal care again when a second wave of coronavirus hits.

Doctors’ and surgeons’ leaders are urging NHS bosses not to use the same sweeping closures of services that were introduced in March to help hospitals cope with the huge influx of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

Prof Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that hospitals should not leave patients ‘stranded’ by again suspending a wide range of diagnostic and treatment services, stressing that patients much be able to access care when they need it.

There are increasing fears concerning a second wave of infections and growing concern that the widespread disruption to hospital care that began in March has led to thousands of patients dying avoidably of cancer and heart disease and will lead to further fatalities in the years ahead.

Statistics show that over one million fewer patients underwent planned surgery in England in April, May and June. This is in addition to the 30,000-40,000 patients who could not start cancer treatment as hospitals discharged thousands of patients and suspended many of their usual services. The Office for National Statistics says that the unavailability of care, in tandem with patients’ reluctance to go into hospital, have been linked to the fact that 12,000 more people than usual have died of illness not linked to coronavirus in England in recent months.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the British Medical Association (BMA), has also warned NHS bosses that they must find ways to maintain normal care in the event of a second wave, especially given the growing number of infections and the recent rise in the R rate in some regions of England and Scotland, which has led to a number of local lockdowns being imposed on towns such as Leicester and Aberdeen.

He suggests that hospitals should set up more ‘Covid-lite’ sites to enable surgeons to resume common operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals, and make good use of the NHS’s £400 million-a-month deal with private hospitals. This is as well as the NHS looking at using the seven Nightingale hospitals it created early in the pandemic as extra capacity for non-coronavirus care.

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