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Concerns that delaying cancer surgeries could create ‘much larger problem’ in future

PUBLISHED: 13:45 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:55 03 April 2020

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which will now have a seperate emergency department for Covid-19 patients. Picture: Nick Butcher

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which will now have a seperate emergency department for Covid-19 patients. Picture: Nick Butcher

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Norfolk’s biggest hospital says it is working to allow some cancer surgeries to continue during the coronavirus pandemic, to alleviate concerns from patients and their families.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital confirmed it is ensuring as many beds are being made possible for patients as it prepares for the virus’ infection peak.

Hospitals had been told by NHS they would need to postpone all non-urgent operations from April 15 at the latest, “for a period of at least three months”.

Following its board meeting this week, the hospital said it is working with private hospital Spire so some cancer and elective surgery can continue during the pandemic.

Read more; N&N working with private hospital to ensure cancer operations go ahead

A Norfolk man, who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer, was told his operation would be cancelled for the indefinite future.

The patient’s wife said cancellations raised country-wide problems if some cancers were not treated quickly.

She said: “Are we not in danger of creating even more problems for the NHS in allowing cancer operations to be delayed indefinitely? Cancer can spread and what could, at this stage, have been a minimally invasive operation, followed by a short stay in hospital, could well now mean a much larger problem.”

Read more: ‘Money is no object’ in coronavirus fight says health secretary

Erika Denton, NNUH medical director, said: “As the chief medical officer has stated, NHS services are likely to come under intense pressure as the coronavirus spreads, and we need to ensure that we have as many beds available as possible to care for patients with severe respiratory problems when the number of infections peaks.

“We have reduced our routine elective work to better support our preparations for the peak of the pandemic.

“For every patient awaiting cancer treatment of any kind, the risk of delaying treatment needs to be balanced against the potential risks of contracting COVID-19 whilst in an immunocompromised state.”

She said some patients will have already been advised to self-isolate, while others would be in high-risk groups and, for some, treatment would move them into that group.

She added that decisions to defer treatment would be made on a “case by case basis”.

“We know many people waiting for treatment will be disappointed or worried, and we will be contacting everyone affected as soon as possible,” she added.

Read more: Live chat and free phone support for cancer sufferers

Last Friday, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said some cancer care would be stopped if both clinicians and patients agreed it would be too risky for them to travel.

He said: “We have been clear that we do want essential and urgent cancer treatments to continue but that cancer specialists should have the opportunity, with their patients, to decide whether it is more risky for someone to embark on treatment at this particular time given that you are more vulnerable to infection if you begin a course of treatment, such as chemo, and become immuno-compromised as a result. Those are clinical decisions that will need to be taken.”


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