Covid: Surge leaves key hospital services 'in crisis'

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Key hospital services in England are struggling under the pressure of rising Covid cases, figures suggest.

Data published by NHS England has found growing numbers facing long “trolley waits” because beds are not available.

Waits for routine care are also at their highest levels, with one-year waits over 100 times higher than they were before the pandemic started.

Meanwhile, cancer doctors are warning disruption to their services are “terrifying” and will cost lives.

Reports have emerged of hospitals cancelling urgent operations – London’s King’s College Hospital has stopped priority two treatments, which are those than need to be done within 28 days.

It comes after a surge in Covid patients in recent weeks. One in three patients in hospital have the virus – and at some sites it is over half.

NHS England medical director Prof Stephen Powis said the NHS was facing an “exceptionally tough challenge”, adding services would continue to be under pressure until the virus was under control.

But he stressed non-Covid treatment was still happening – with three times as many diagnostic tests and twice as many operations being carried out than there was in the spring when the pandemic first hit.

How are services affected?

The rising number of Covid cases have had a knock-on effect on many other services from A&E to routine treatments.

The data published on Thursday showed:

  • Nearly 90,000 patients – one in four – admitted to hospital via A&E waited over four hours for a bed to be found – this includes both Covid and non-Covid patients
  • This included a record 3,745 who waited more than 12 hours
  • There was a record 4.46 million on the waiting list for routine treatment, including knee and hip operations
  • More than 192,000 have waited over one year – in February, before the pandemic started, the figure stood at 1,600
  • Staff have had to be redeployed into critical care after rising Covid cases have forced hospitals to increase the number of intensive care beds by a quarter since November

The figures for cancer date back to November, before the surge in cases.

At that point the number of urgent cancer check-ups and treatments being started was at normal levels.

But since then, concerns have been raised that services have been reduced.

Prof Pat Price, of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said services were facing the “biggest crisis” of her 30-year career.

“This is a truly terrifying scenario,” she added.

Sarah Scobie, from the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said services were under “intolerable strain”.

“We know there is yet worse to come,” she added.