Health staff are doing everything they can ensure to emergency and cancer surgery goes ahead, a group representing NHS trusts in England said, as it was reported some hospitals are treating fewer than half the cancer patients they normally would.
A London health official said people in the health service are “working round the clock” to increase capacity, as the capital struggles with high Covid-19 infection rates and hospital admissions.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that only 122 cancer cases were treated in London’s NHS hospitals this week, while 101 were seen in private hospitals.
It said that according to a leaked NHS England cancer resilience plan, the capital needs to treat more than 500 cancer patients a week to remain on top of demand.
Figures also show there were almost 4,000 cancer patients across the capital waiting beyond the target time for their first treatment, the paper said.
The Telegraph said it had analysed data that showed there were around 10,000 fewer non-Covid patients being treated at NHS hospitals in England last week than the middle of last month.
None of the figures were disputed by NHS England.
Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London, said: “Our staff are working round the clock opening hundreds of beds including the London Nightingale and some surgery is being postponed based on clinical need to ensure all Londoners continue to receive very urgent cancer surgery, making best use of existing NHS facilities and independent sector sites.
“On behalf of our NHS staff, I say to Londoners: We are depending on you. Stay at home, do everything possible to reduce the transmission of the virus, and help us save lives.”
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said the delaying of operations was a “temporary emergency response to a temporary emergency problem”.
He said: “Every trust will do everything it can to ensure it continues with emergency and cancer surgery. We all know how important these cases are.
“Every trust will leave no stone unturned to ensure all these operations are completed on time, including getting support from neighbouring trusts and using private sector capacity.
“Any cases that have to be temporarily delayed for a few days will obviously be rebooked for as quickly as possible.
“But no-one should confuse this with this being standard practice. It’s a temporary emergency response to a temporary emergency problem”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident on Friday, warning that there was a risk of NHS hospitals running out of beds in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread.
Dr Rob Harwood, British Medical Association consultants committee chairman, said doctors felt “a great sense of anxiety” at not being able to give patients the usual care.
He said: “The UK went into the pandemic with a health service that is simply too small for the country’s needs. It is short of staff, beds and adequate funding, meaning the NHS was always always likely to be forced to cancel non-urgent operations and other treatments to ensure it had the capacity to deal with a pandemic – and that capacity is now being stretched to its limits.
“This has caused a great sense of anxiety for doctors, who are extremely distressed about not being able to provide the high level of care that they want to for their patients.”