King’s College Hospital cancels cancer surgery amid fears ‘nearly full’ wards could soon be ‘overwhelmed’

Katherine Johnston (06 January, 2021)

One in thirty Londoners are believed to now have the virus

23053King's College Hospital in Denmark Hill

King’s College Hospital is ‘nearly full’ with fears also growing for Guy’s and St Thomas’ as the number of daily cases in Southwark nearly hit 700 over Christmas.

The surge in infections is now having a knock-on impact on the NHS, with the number of COVID-19 patients exceeding that of the first wave.

On Monday, 6,700 people were treated for COVID-19 in London hospitals – far higher than the 5,201 in April last year.

The same day King’s College cancelled urgent cancer surgery due to the lack of intensive care beds.

Other hospitals have cancelled elective procedures, including Guy’s and St Thomas’,  but this is believed to be the first time cancer patients have been affected since the second wave of the virus emerged in the Autumn.

The trust postponed ‘priority two’ surgeries scheduled for early this week; operations that must be carried out within 28 days after being deemed necessary.

Its intensive care beds are increasingly being taken up by seriously ill COVID-19 patients, leaving not enough capacity for those coming out of major surgery.

The News understands those whose surgery has been postponed are yet to receive new dates, and staff had annual leave cancelled as the hospital tries to fill gaps caused by sickness absence.

Speaking with the News on Tuesday, Southwark Council leader Kieron Williams said he was having ‘very worrying conversations’ with south east London trusts, and described King’s as ‘nearly full’.

In a statement published yesterday, he said Southwark was at an “extremely serious stage of the pandemic, when hospitals could soon be overwhelmed without our action. NHS workers are facing their toughest time yet and we must support them.” 

A spokesperson for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust told the News: “Due to the large increase in patients being admitted with COVID 19, including those requiring intensive care, we have taken the difficult decision to postpone all elective procedures, with the exception of cases where a delay would cause immediate harm. 

“A small number of cancer patients due to be operated on this week have had their surgery postponed, with patients being kept under close review by senior doctors.” 

In December King’s had urged patients to avoid A&E unless absolutely necessary, and instead call 111, as its emergency department was ‘extremely busy’. 

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust has not had to send any COVID-19 patients elsewhere for treatment, after being able to free up extra space to help manage the flow of extra patients. Without these extra beds it could have been at a similar level of burden as King’s.

At the time of going to press, the trust had been unable to confirm whether urgent surgeries at the trust will be postponed in the coming days.

On December 29, Southwark posted its highest ever daily count of positive tests, with 692 people receiving confirmation they had the virus. 

According to the latest available data, published on Tuesday (January 5), 465 people received positive COVID-19 test results in the borough in the previous 24 hours. 

Daily cases are now regularly in the hundreds despite being in double digits as recently as early December, when cases doubled every fortnight.

This exponential growth has been attributed to the new, more transmissible, variant of COVID-19 first identified in Kent. The strain is now rampant across London and the south-east of England, and emerging in every region of the UK.

At a government briefing on Tuesday, chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty said roughly one in 50 people in the country now have the virus, rising to one in thirty in London. 

Shockingly, that means more than one million people are currently infected, putting incredible pressure on the NHS.

Addressing the nation, Boris Johnson said the number of people now in hospital was 40 per cent higher than during the first wave.

In one ray of light, around a quarter of the priority over-80s group have now had their first dose of the vaccine and the number of deaths is not rising at the same rate as hospitalisations. This is partly because younger people are being infected, and also because doctors have much more knowledge of the disease – and the best way to treat it – than in March and April last year.

READ MORE: We can save lives and protect the economy at the same time

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