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Operations on children, including those for broken bones, sleep apnoea and biopsies, are being cancelled because the NHS is so busy treating adults who are seriously ill with Covid-19, specialists have warned.
Those affected and their families would find postponement of planned surgery “stressful and destabilising”, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health added.
The Health Service Journal reported that some of the operations that had been cancelled were classed by the NHS as “priority two”, which means they are seen as urgent and should be done within 28 days.
But hospitals in England are being forced to postpone surgery on under-18s because operating theatre staff are unavailable after being redeployed to care for adults.
Procedures have also been called off in some places recently because paediatric intensive care beds, in which children can recover after a procedure, have been occupied by adults for whom the hospitals concerned cannot find space in an adult intensive care unit. That has happened at Kettering hospital in Northampton, St Mary’s in London and Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool.
“The demand placed on adult services during this surge has been extraordinary, and this has had a knock-on impact on other vital services, including paediatric operations”, said Prof Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
It was mostly due to surgical staff taking on new roles to help treat the large numbers of adults being admitted to hospital who were very unwell with Covid, he said.
The extent of children’s surgery being called off is unclear, and Viner sought to reassure families that only “a small number of operations have been postponed”.
But a consultant paediatrician in London, who asked to remain anonymous, disputed that and warned that children’s health could be set back.
They said: “[In my area] most surgeries except the emergency ones have been cancelled due to demand on theatre space, staff redeployment and inability to see patients in person.
“Hundreds of children are waiting, even to be seen by the paediatric surgeons in clinics. A small fraction of them may have time-critical problems which we will not know until they are seen and examined. So there may be some avoidable harm.”
Eric Nicholls, a paediatric general surgeon and spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the HSJ that most “priority one” and “priority two” children’s surgery had continued, despite Covid pressure. “However, we are now hearing that P2 cases are increasingly being cancelled around the country, due to the increased and prolonged pressure on hospitals from the coronavirus.”
Staff sickness – which is at record levels in the NHS due to workers having Covid or isolating – is also reducing the number of operations hospitals can do, Nicholls added.
Viner added: “We understand that it is stressful and destabilising for children, young people and families affected by delays and postponements.”
The NHS must do its best to “clear the backlog” of children’s surgery after the worst of the second phase of the pandemic had passed, he said.
The Guardian highlighted yesterday how Covid’s disruption of normal NHS care means adults are being denied surgery, often for months, for conditions including cancer, heart problems and hip and knee replacements.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Children having urgent surgery delayed due to NHS Covid pressure | Society