Hundreds of urgent operations for children including cancer biopsies ‘have been cancelled


Hundreds of urgent children’s operations have been cancelled to make way for adult coronavirus patients, it was claimed today.

The procedures — which include biopsies to spot cancer and fracture repairs — were allegedly due to take place at hospitals in London and the Midlands.

They were marked as ‘Priority 2’, which should be done within a month, or ‘Priority 3’, which must be completed within 12 weeks, according to the Health Service Journal.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) claimed ‘Priority 2’ ops were ‘increasingly being cancelled around the country’ because of high pressure from Covid.

‘This is obviously concerning and we need to return to normal operating and to increase capacity as soon as possible,’ said Eric Nicholls, a consultant paediatrician and member of the college.

Hospitals have been under intense pressure during the pandemic, with the number of Covid inpatients this winter surging to around 35,000 in England alone — 80 per cent above the peak of the first wave.

The surging admissions led to whole wards being turned over to treat those suffering from the virus, with thousands of routine operations postponed because there were too few available.

The chief of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, warned today it could take months for the health service to return to normal because doctors and nurses are exhausted.

Almost 4.5million people in England were waiting for routine operations such as joint replacements or cataract surgery by December — the highest number since records began. It included nearly 200,000 people who have been on the lists for more than a year.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was ‘deeply alarming’ that there were reports of children’s operations being cancelled and warned that they must not now become ‘the forgotten victims of this crisis’.

Warning over the disruption to children’s services, Mr Nicholls said: ‘Emergency operations including neonatal, trauma and cancer surgery that fall within ‘Priority 1’ and ‘Priority 2’ categories in all children’s surgical specialities have broadly continued during the pandemic.

‘However, we are now hearing that ‘Priority 2′ cases are increasingly being cancelled around the country, due to increased and prolonged pressure on hospitals from the coronavirus.’

He added that doctors and nurses have been pulled off children’s wards to assist with Covid-19 patients at hospitals with both children and adult centres, sparking disruption to procedures.

Staff shortages due to self-isolation and sickness and a lack of available operating theatres has also led to delays, he said.

NHS England told MailOnline 10 ‘specialised networks’ for children’s surgeries had been set up to ensure ‘most procedures’ could go ahead.

‘Even in December as Covid inpatient numbers rose sharply, children’s elective activity was at more than four fifths of its pre-pandemic levels 12 months before,’ a spokesman said.

Children are the least likely to die from Covid-19 if they catch the disease, an array of scientific evidence has shown since the start of the pandemic.

But they could be put at risk by postponed operations.

Almost 13 times more over-60s had died from the virus in hospitals compared to younger age groups by January 14, NHS England data showed.

There were 56,000 fatalities in the older age group since the pandemic began, but only 4,500 below this bracket. And of these just 29 Covid-19 deaths were in youngsters aged under 19 years old.

Mr Ashworth said pushing back children’s operations to deal with Covid-19 patients ‘puts children’s health at risk’ and revealed the intense pressure on hospitals.

‘Years of cutbacks, understaffing and underfunding left our NHS vulnerable heading into this pandemic and now swathes of vital non-Covid care are cancelled,’ he said.

‘Children must not become the forgotten victims of this crisis. Child health and well-being must always be a priority.’

Warning the NHS was unlikely to return to normal for months, Mr Hopson told The Guardian hospital chiefs wanted to give doctors and nurses time to recover.

‘There’s potentially quite a tension between giving staff who are completely exhausted the space and support they need to recover, and at the same time the NHS recovering the backlogs of care that have built up, particularly in the hospital sector,’ he said.