NHS hospitals have been told to prepare for a potential suspension of all non-emergency elective procedures ahead of a surge in coronavirus patients, according to reports.
Affected patients would be given at least 48 hours’ notice of cancellations, which could last for several months, according to the Health Service Journal.
Tens of or even hundreds of thousands of operations could be cancelled under the measures, which aim to free up as much capacity as possible to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Trusts have been told to firm up their plans for how they would incrementally reduce and potentially suspend non-emergency operations while also protecting “life saving” procedures such as cancer treatment.
Waiting list expert Rob Findlay told HSJ the overall elective waiting list would likely further deteriorate, but the hardest impact would be felt by the longest waiters.
“It will certainly accelerate the already deteriorating position on 18-week waits, but the effect may be most striking in the rise in 52-week waiters,” he stated. “This is because these patients tend to be in the heaviest case mix, like the more serious end of orthopedics, plastic surgery, or neurosurgery, which require in-patient procedures, rather than day cases.
“This means those patients who are already suffering the most extreme long waits are likely to be most impacted by any suspensions.”
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said trusts were already preparing to make cancellations.
“If you stopped doing elective surgery, you could convert theatres, you could convert resuscitation rooms, recovery areas into places where you could provide intensive care,” he told BBC Newsnight.
An NHS England spokeswoman said services will come under pressure as the outbreak spreads more widely “and so it is only right we are preparing a number of practical solutions to respond”.