The Royal College of Surgeons reported that thousands of patients in England have been left in “pain and discomfort” because of the decision to postpone operations, with those waiting for hip and knee surgery had been the worst affected.
Operations were put off this winter to free up beds for A&Es – new figures have shown 40,000 fewer were done this winter than in the previous one – but despite this waits hit their worst level for over a decade.
During the winter, just over 85 per cent of A&E patients have been treated or admitted within four hours, well below the 95 per cent target and the worst performance since the target was introduced in 2004.
Royal College of Surgeons president Professor Derek Alderson acknowledged delaying operations was a “necessary evil” given the pressure A&Es were under. But he said: “It also inevitably prevented many patients who are in discomfort or pain from having an operation when they needed it, potentially causing their condition to deteriorate.”
As well as hip and knee surgery, the college said patients waiting for brain surgery for benign tumours that can cause sight problems if left and those needing treatment for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease would also have been affected.
“We urgently need a clear plan to deal with the growing backlog of cancelled operations,” Professor Alderson said.
The data published by NHS England showed there were 544,000 operations carried out in December and January, down from 585,500 over the same period the year before.
A spokesman pointed out the number of patients affected was less than was initially feared at one point, but conceded it had been a “challenging winter”.
And British Medical Association leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned the pressures were “far from over” with hospitals still incredibly busy and “patients are continuing to be routinely failed.”