The Royal College of Surgeons has criticised a decision to suspend routine operations at Tunbridge Wells Hospital as being ‘unprecedented and unfair.’
The three month ban has been described as the longest in NHS history. It will impact around 1,700 operating slots across West Kent, including those at Pembury and Maidstone, and is designed to save £3.2million.
Operations that have been put on hold include those to fit replacement knees and hips as well as some forms of heart surgery. These are procedures that would have taken place at both private and NHS hospitals used by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.
The decision to halt procedures was made by the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group (WKCCG) which is a body of GPs and other healthcare professionals responsible for funding local services. The extent of the ban was disclosed last week in meeting minutes of the group. The 102 day ban started in December and ends in April.
The President of the Royal College of Surgeons Clare Marx last week accused the group of trying to make ‘short term’ savings which may have ‘major consequences’ for patients.
She said: “West Kent CCG’s suspension of non-urgent surgery until April is unprecedented and unfair. Patients, some of whom may be in severe discomfort or pain, should not be made to wait longer for treatment because the CCG has run out of money and surgical patients are perceived as easily postponed.
“While patients wait for treatment, their conditions could deteriorate, sometimes making treatment more complex and costly in the long term.
“Clinical decisions must not be made purely on a financial basis. It’s time for the Government to be realistic about funding levels.”
“Austerity has squeezed the NHS until it is creaking”
The ban follows the local NHS trust being put into financial special measures last year in a bid to halt loses expected to hit almost £24million last year.
Tunbridge Wells Labour Party spokesman Martin Betts described the new situation as ‘alarming’, and said it came at a time of extreme strain on the rest of the health service.
“This is on top of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust being put into ‘special financial measures’ in an attempt to stop it overshooting its budget. And the local Ambulance Service Trust being put into special measures because of bullying, delayed response times and putting patients at risk.
“Austerity has squeezed the NHS until it is creaking at the seams at a time when it clearly needs a massive injection of public funding.”
Dr Bob Bowes, chair of West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group, said the decisions to delay some procedures was ‘never easy’ but were a necessity.
Each patient will be considered on a case for case basis he said, adding “It is important to stress that patients will continue to be referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment and those requiring urgent treatment will still receive it. No-one with an urgent health care need will be made to wait.
“In some cases a judgement will be made as to whether a required procedure is non-urgent and could wait. For example, for a hip or a knee replacement, some patients would be able to wait longer for their operation without there being an adverse outcome for their health.
“Anyone who has had a procedure booked, will be treated. No-one will have their operation or procedure cancelled as a result of this policy.”
When asked by the Times if patients could expect longer waiting times for the foreseeable future once non-emergency surgery resumes, Mr Bowes replied: “There will be no backlog – patients are still being seen at outpatients clinics and if they need non-urgent surgery they are being given a date after April for this to happen. Many patients will be unaware that their surgery has been delayed and the majority will get their surgery within 18 weeks.”