Omicron ‘may cause 100,000 cancelled NHS operations this winter’

Omicron may cause 100,000 cancelled operations in England this winter adding to the huge backlog of delayed treatment, according to researchers.

A modelling study, published as a peer-reviewed research letter in The Lancet, finds that the number of elective operations performed each week is closely related to the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, the team used NHS England data from September 2020 to July 2021 to develop a model to project elective surgery activity based on the number of Covid patients in hospital.

Using this model, they estimate that, in the first two weeks of October 2021, the amount of elective or non-urgent operations in England was reduced by 21.9 per cent – a drop of 14,348 operations per week – compared to the pre-pandemic period.

However, if the number of patients in hospital in England with Covid increases to the levels seen in the first wave in April 2020, the number of elective operations in England would be cut by 33.9 per cent – a drop of 22,147 operations per week – compared to pre-pandemic.,

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This means that an increase in Covid admissions from October 2021 to April 2020 levels would result in 100,273 fewer elective operations performed over the three winter months.

Aneel Bhangu, a consultant surgeon and senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said: “Our study shows that as more Covid-19 patients are admitted to hospital, surgical units are forced to cancel elective operations to release capacity to treat Covid-19.

“Hospitals work hard to prioritise life-saving operations, including those helping cancer patients. The greatest impact of hospital pressures from Covid-19 is on patients waiting for non-life saving, but quality of life transforming surgery.

“Cancellations may mean that patients wait even longer for operations like hip replacements, resulting in deterioration of their symptoms and increased disability. Ring-fenced elective hubs are urgently needed to protect elective surgery this winter.”

The waiting list for non-urgent treatment on the NHS in England has almost reached 6 million people, according to latest official figures. Ministers already admitted before the arrival of Omicron that the figure will rise before it comes down.

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