Children's cancer surgery cancelled as hospitals hit by Covid pressure

Urgent children’s operations are being cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, leading surgeons have warned.

‘Dozens and potentially hundreds’ of children’s operations, including cancer surgery, has been cancelled during the third wave, according to The Health Service Journal (HSJ).

Some of these surgeries are rated as priority two (P2), meaning they should be carried out within 28 days.

Children’s surgery for broken bones, sleep apnoea and biopsies have also not yet been rescheduled.

This is down to staff being redeployed to coronavirus wards or being off sick due to the pandemic, as well as children’s wards being taken over by adult Covid patients, one source has claimed.

Eric Nicholls, a paediatric surgeon and a council member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the HSJ: ‘We are now hearing that [paediatric] P2 cases [which should be done within a month] are increasingly being cancelled around the country, due to increased and prolonged pressure on hospitals from the coronavirus. 

‘This is obviously concerning and we need to return to normal operating and to increase capacity as soon as possible.’

NHS England has said most children’s procedures are still going ahead, with ‘children’s elective activity at more than four fifths of its pre-pandemic levels 12 months before’.

It comes after data from November 2020 showed almost 200,000 patients were waiting 52 weeks or more to begin treatment, compared to just 1,398 at the same time the year before.

Cancer operations fell by a third during the first wave, while cancer diagnoses were a quarter lower.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said emergency children’s operations have ‘broadly continued’ during the Covid crisis.

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the ‘vast majority’ of paediatric services are working normally, although the ‘extraordinary’ demand placed on adult services ‘has had a knock-on impact on other vital services’.

He has stressed that the NHS is still open to children and young people during the current Covid wave.

An NHS spokesman said: ‘The vast majority of cancer treatment is continuing across the country, with 1.3 million people having had checks and more than 200,000 having started treatment since the start of the pandemic. 

‘NHS services are open and ready to help those who need cancer care, so we urge people who might not have to come forward for routine screening or get checked if they have a worrying symptom.’

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