Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals has recently been forced to turn away new patients from its King George Hospital in Goodmayes and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, as it prioritises treatment for COVID-19 sufferers. Hospitals had been advised to choose which cancer patients to treat in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Guide lines from NHS England say that all those with less than a year to live or who do not require urgent treatment should be put at the end of the queue.
Despite this, a spokesperson for the trust said that it had no other choice but to take the drastic action of halting its cancer treatment services.
The trust representative said: “We are now seeing an increase in the number of seriously ill patients (who have tested positive for COVID-19) at our hospitals, which is only going to increase in the days and weeks ahead.”
As a result, all planned surgery and cancer treatment has been postponed with immediate effect and patients cannot even see their doctors face-to-face.
The trust’s unprecedented action contravenes assurances given by NHS bosses that patients across the UK would receive cancer treatment as per normal.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said as recently as March 17 that the pandemic would not result in cancelled operations.
Moreover, last week the government concluded a deal between the NHS and private hospitals that provided more beds and staff for the fight against the coronavirus.
The extra capacity was supposed to ensure that cancer treatment would go ahead as usual.
Karol Sikora, medical director of the independent provider Rutherford Health, insisted that if the NHS used the capacity in private hospitals it should be “business as usual for cancer patients”.
He told the Daily Mail: “’Hospitals have been told that cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue to be prioritised.
“Decisions about treatment are rightly taken by expert clinicians who will be carrying out as much cancer treatment as possible, while clearly needing to balance this against the risk to individuals posed by coronavirus.
This comes as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed new details of the government’s contingency plans to deal with the expected increase in COVID-19 cases.
At a press conference on Tuesday, he announced plans to set up a task force of 250,000 volunteers to help the NHS deal with the coronavirus crisis.
The Health Secretary said: “”We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health.”
His announcement came after it was revealed that the UK death toll from COVID-19 had risen to 424.
Mr Hancock also announced that that 11,788 former health staff had agreed to return to help out.
They included 2,660 doctors, more than 2,000 other clinical staff and 6,147 nurses.
He confirmed that 5,500 final year medical students and 1,800 final year student nurses would go into work early.