• University Hospitals of Birmingham FT tells patients it has suspended non-urgent cancer surgery
  • Comes after London trust became the first to cancel non-urgent cancer procedures

A large trust in the West Midlands has told patients it is suspending “a high proportion” of non-urgent cancer surgery, HSJ has learned.

In a letter sent by a UHB consultant to a cancer patient expecting surgery this month, University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, said it had “taken the difficult decision to suspend all non-urgent surgery, including cancer surgery”.

The letter added: “I’m sure you appreciate these are unprecedented times and many NHS services have been severely affected by this global pandemic. We thank you for your understanding and will be in touch with a new date.”

HSJ has asked UHB to comment and provide more details, including whether the suspension applies to chemotherapy treatments. The trust said a high proportion of procedures have been postponed, but not all.

National guidance published earlier this month for trusts said they could postpone non-urgent elective operations from 15 April. It added: “Emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue unaffected.”

HSJ has asked NHS England to clarify whether this means non-urgent cancer treatments should be unaffected.

However, subsequent guidance has advised on how to prioritise cancer patients where necessary.

Last week, Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust was the first provider to suspend routine cancer surgery. The policy was introduced for an initial two weeks, and is being kept under review.

In a statement to HSJ a spokeswoman for UHBFT said: “We regret that any operation has to be cancelled and acknowledge the distress this can cause to both patients and their relatives.

“However, in view of the pressures posed by coronavirus, the trust is having to make some difficult decisions to allow our staff and resources to be deployed effectively to cope with the current and anticipated pressures.

“Not all cancer operations have been cancelled at UHB, however, we are having to defer a high proportion of them or offer alternative treatments given the impact of COVID-19.”

The trust added it reviews daily what can go ahead on a prioritised basis and so the range of cases is different each day. It said it is sourcing “alternative capacity in the independent sector urgently to deliver this work”.

Clarifying how it is prioritising the management of cancer patients the trust said it is following NHS England guidance which categorises patients in to four priority levels.

This story was updated at 10am on 3 April, after UHBFT clarified that not all non-urgent cancer surgery was affected.