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Exhaust every alternative before cancelling operations

06 Nov 2020

Commenting on findings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that more than 3.5 million people aged over 50 had hospital treatment cancelled between February and May this year, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Professor Neil Mortensen said:

“The impact of COVID-19 on other health treatment is a story unfolding day by day. Sadly, today’s findings show that the crisis is exacerbating existing health inequalities, with millions of older people affected by cancellations of hospital treatment during the first wave.

“As the second wave of the pandemic now hits us, it is absolutely critical that ‘COVID-light’ areas of the NHS are maintained and protected for those who urgently need surgery.

“We also need to see the NHS publishing data on cancelled operations once again, so there is improved transparency about how non-COVID care is being affected.

“Staff are working night and day to keep surgery going, but the pressures they face from rising cases of COVID are increasing. We want to see every possible alternative exhausted before Trusts consider any widespread cancellation of planned operations.

“Meanwhile the NHS is open for business after huge efforts from staff to get theatres up and running over the summer, so people should not feel their condition is any less important. The NHS is there to help everyone who needs it.”

Notes to editors

  1. The IFS report, COVID-19 and disruptions to the health and social care of older people in England, records that “When surveyed in June 2020, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) participants were asked whether they had had a hospital operation or treatment cancelled since the start of the outbreak. A sixth (16.8%) of participants – equivalent to 3.6 million individuals in England – reported that their operation or treatment had been cancelled. A large part of the older population in England therefore experienced disruptions to their planned hospital care, despite many people in this age group having no hospital treatment planned over this period. The survey does not record how many participants had such treatment scheduled. As a result, we cannot examine what proportion of patients with planned treatment or operations experienced a cancellation. However, data collected in May 2020 as part of the Understanding Society COVID-19 study suggest that 23.5% of participants aged 50 years and older had hospital treatment planned in the month before the interview, with 57.4% of these participants who had planned treatment either experiencing a cancellation, or postponing their treatment themselves.”
  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
  3. For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.

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