The NHS is cancelling cancer operations with increasing regularity, according to the Observer

According to the newspaper, cancer operations had begun to be cancelled in December with numbers escalating into this year.

“Historically, [cancer operations] have been protected due to their urgent nature. However, feedback from our members suggests that since the start of January, a large number of hospitals across the UK are now cancelling cancer surgery,” said Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons. “It is heartbreaking for a surgeon to have to explain to a patient who has cancer that their operation has had to be cancelled as there are no beds available.

“It is increasingly clear that no part of the system and no patient is immune from the pressure the NHS is experiencing.”

Although the UK government continues to reassure the public that the escalating pressure on the NHS is normal for the mid-winter period, Lord Kerslake, chair of King’s College Hospital, suggests that Theresa May’s cabinet is ignorant of the severity of the NHS crisis.

In his opinion column for the Guardian, Kerslake describes his own experience at his trust: “Seen from the position of chair of King’s College Hospital, there is no question that the pressures are real and serious. Constant and relentless effort is required to keep essential services running.

“That we have managed to do so is down to the extraordinary efforts of senior and frontline staff. Even with this, the picture is one of enormous fragility, not just at my trust but across the whole of the NHS.”

Kerslake goes on to cite the 20 hospitals having to declare a black alert in the past week – a status meaning the hospitals had become so overcrowded that they could no longer guarantee both the provision of their normal services and patient safety.

The University hospitals of Leicester NHS trust went one further however, declaring a ‘system critical incident’ – a status even worse than a black alert.

Patients in need of treatment at the hospital had to be held in ambulances before being brought in for A&E care.

Another trust resorting to extreme measures in recent times is the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust which had to cancel or postpone cancer surgeries, both simple and complex, due to a lack of post-operation intensive care beds.

 In reference to a possible solution to the problem, Kerslake first focused on funding: “Additional funding now, together with a concerted move to eliminate the deficits that NHS trusts are currently carrying, is essential. This would stop the incessant tug of war that currently goes on between different parts of the NHS as they desperately try to balance their own part of the system. The energy and focus could then go on delivering real improvements in productivity and more consistent service quality.”

He then moves on to the need for a full reorganisation of the NHS, one that allows “health and care organisations to come together at a local level.”

“Combining hospitals, GPs and community services and moving away from the current artificial division between purchasers and providers would improve care and reduce costs. In some places this change has already started. It needs much more support.”

Other areas of improvement Kerslake cites are the need for a replacement investment plan to the private finance initiative which, although was controversially expensive, “brought substantial new investment”, and better incentives and working environments for NHS employees.