Hospitals have been instructed by NHS England to defer all non-urgent operations until mid-January.
Operations that will be cancelled under the measure include cataract surgery as well as hip and knee replacements.
The latest statistics show that there were 401,325 patients waiting to receive treatment through an NHS England ophthalmology department in October 2017.
Of the patients who started treatment in October, half had waited more than three months to begin treatment while one in 20 had waited more than seven months.
President of the Society for Acute Medicine Dr Nick Scriven highlighted his belief that the deferral of non-urgent operations would last longer than the initial announcement of mid-January.
“The positive of this is action to relieve pressure on the system – the bad news is that it has happened already without much actual unexpected stress on the system,” he elaborated.
“We have not yet seen anything out of the ordinary, weather or infection-wise, so my belief is that this stance will need to be extended until at least the end of February,” Dr Scriven emphasised.
Dr Scriven explained that before Christmas, 43 NHS trusts were more than 98% full despite the allocation of an extra 3000 beds.
“I expect this to be at least doubled, maybe trebled, today,” he highlighted.
“The position at the moment is as bad as I’ve ever known,” Dr Scriven added.
Association of Optometrists clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, told OT it was understandable that the NHS would want to avoid the ‘chaotic’ scenes of winter 2016, when patients were left on trolleys in corridors and operations were cancelled at the last minute.
However, he emphasised that the latest measure “causes a great deal of upset for the patients involved.”
“Delaying cataract surgery rarely has serious implications, however the impact upon the quality of life of patients should not be trivialised, with their ability to carry out even everyday tasks, such as driving or going to the shops being limited, making these winter months even harder,” he observed.
Dr Hampson added: “It’s important that cancelling operations doesn’t become the default position for managing pressures faced in the NHS – this latest action just further demonstrates why sustainable funding and resource is desperately needed.”
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