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Elective surgeries could be cancelled as Greater Manchester NHS braces for severe winter, warns health chief

Manchester Evening News logo Manchester Evening News 28/11/2022 Helena Vesty

Cancellations to surgeries cannot be ruled out as the NHS enters an extremely challenging winter, says a Greater Manchester health chief. The warning comes as patients are urged to choose the right place for their illness or injury because A&E waiting rooms and hospital beds are under crippling demand.

Greater Manchester health leaders have said keeping operations on track, particular cancer surgeries, is vital despite winter pressures on the NHS. However, demand on the system is so high that pausing elective surgeries is ‘always a risk’ over the coming months, according to Dr Manisha Kumar, Greater Manchester’s chief medical officer and GP.

Planned surgeries, which include cancer appointments, joint replacements and other scheduled operations, were paused during the most pressured points during the pandemic to make room for Covid-19 patients in hospitals. Any major surgery needs an open bed in intensive care to go ahead, but the pausing of surgeries throughout that period has created a huge backlog, which doctors across the country are now trying to plough through.

READ MORE: Pensioner's arm gashed during nightmare A&E wait lasting almost 12 hours

This year has seen a national push to clear the surgery backlogs, as patients’ conditions worsen as they wait for care and suffer the fallout of becoming more reliant on intermediary measures, such as painkillers. But, there is still a chance that surgeries could be forced to stop as the NHS braces for a difficult winter.

For months, A&Es across the region have seen colossal numbers of patients, far outstripping staffing levels, the Manchester Evening News has been told by multiple sources in the NHS. Ambulances have been left queuing up outside emergency departments because of a sheer lack of beds inside for their patients, instead having to keep them waiting in the back of vans prompting fears for their safety.

Meanwhile, GPs say more people than ever are being treated, amid complaints from patients struggling to get appointments.

Dr Manisha Kumar is the chief medical officer for Greater Manchester's NHS © Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News Dr Manisha Kumar is the chief medical officer for Greater Manchester's NHS

“There’s always a risk of [elective surgeries being cancelled]. I think we don’t yet know what Covid and flu are going to do, which is why we’re saying get immunised now. Australia had a really bad ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu,” said Dr Kumar.

“If Covid and flu rise for us, we won’t have any choice but to, perhaps, pull back on some of the elective surgeries because we need ICU beds for serious operations, we need hospital beds. That’s why keeping well is really important so we don’t have to pause anything, because that doesn’t help anybody.

“We talk about harm related to being seriously ill, there’s also harm related to waiting, and people waiting for what they need to have done so they can get on with their lives.

“Yes, there is a risk but I think we are doing all we can to prevent that being overwhelming.”

Right now, the numbers waiting for elective surgeries are ‘going in the right direction’ and reducing, said the doctor. “It is hard to balance keeping routine stuff going with people who are really poorly - and that’s what we want to try and do, keep both going at the same time,” continued Dr Kumar.

“That’s the challenge and the more we get people in the right place, the more likely we are to be able to keep both streams going. And cancer treatments are just the most important things, that’s the ambition and if we work together then hopefully we can make sure that flows well.”

Paramedics are faced with a 'dilemma' © Getty Images Paramedics are faced with a 'dilemma'

Greater Manchester’s NHS today (November 28) launched a major drive to make sure people know where to get their treatment this winter. The campaign follows complaints from hospital emergency departments last month that patients have been turning up to A&E expecting to be treated for chapped lips and verrucas .

As patients continue to stream into A&E, waiting times for help rise and stretch staffing thin.

“We know that if people use the right service, they get the right treatment for them at a time that works for them - and sooner,” the GP added.

“We know that demand for services increases over winter and services are already facing high demand. We still have Covid and flu is rising within our communities.

“But we also know that the public want to feel reassured that the NHS is there for them this winter, and can support them when they are unwell.

“We’re urging the public to choose the right service, use NHS 111 to guide you if you’re not sure. Make sure you take up your flu and your Covid jabs if you’re eligible.”

A North West paramedic has spoken of the 'rot' affecting the NHS © STEVE ALLEN A North West paramedic has spoken of the 'rot' affecting the NHS

For smaller, non-urgent concerns and some medications, pharmacies can be an option. Pharmacists can also tell you if you need to be seen by a doctor or at A&E if symptoms do turn out to be more serious.

For specialist complaints, such as eye problems, optometrists are offering telephone and same-day appointments that can cut out the need for a long wait at A&E.

The telephone and online 111 services can help people find out exactly where to go if they are not sure. For patients waiting for surgeries, they are advised to visit whileyouwait.org.uk.

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