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Hospital appointments cancelled because of Queen’s funeral

Exclusive: Thousands of patients waiting for surgery, maternity checks and some cancer care will be affected

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Martin Williams
12 September 2022, 4.46pm
Non-urgent surgery has been delayed in NHS trusts across the UK.
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Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

Thousands of patients have had hospital appointments cancelled because of the Queen’s funeral, openDemocracy can reveal.

Some NHS trusts have said that all non-urgent procedures and clinic appointments will be postponed, including hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, maternity checks and some cancer treatments.

Many patients had been waiting months for surgery – only to have it cancelled a week beforehand. In a letter to one patient, the NHS blamed “unforeseen circumstances”.

Doctors at one central London hospital trust were told: “The day of the State Funeral will be treated as a bank holiday so please go ahead and start rescheduling patients.”

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openDemocracy understands that non-urgent appointments have been cancelled across the UK as a result of the funeral, although NHS England said the decision was “for trusts to make locally”.

It follows the announcement that the UK will have a bank holiday on September 19 to mark the Queen's funeral. But government guidelines says: "There is no statutory entitlement to time off," adding that this is "a matter for discussion between individuals and their employer".

The decision to cancel appointments comes as hospital waiting lists hit an all-time high: almost 6.8 million people were waiting for appointments at the end of July. More than 377,000 of these patients had been waiting for more than a year.

And NHS data shows that nearly 40% of cancer patients had their treatment delayed beyond the two-month maximum.

Speaking to openDemocracy, a pregnant woman said her fetal scan at a different London hospital trust has been cancelled as a result of the Queen’s funeral. When she tried to phone up to reschedule her appointment, she was placed on hold for four hours.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said. “Yes, it’s a routine scan, but that’s another week or two until I’m seen and wondering whether my baby is healthy – which means quite a lot of anxiety, sitting and waiting.”

A text message from the NHS this morning told her: “We regret that due to unforeseen circumstances, your appointment to see a member of the team in the Fetal Medicine Centre on Monday 19th September has been cancelled. A new appointment date will be rescheduled shortly.”

Announcing the decision to cancel appointments on Monday, NHS bosses at one trust said that if any doctors were “willing to operate” they would be “supported”.

openDemocracy has seen evidence of at least two other trusts that have made similar announcements. Asked what message NHS England would give to the patients affected, a spokesperson said only that trusts were advised to inform patients in advance.

A doctor at one trust told openDemocracy: “I imagine most of the doctors would be happy to just ignore the bank holiday, but we are totally reliant on a huge team of people paid minimum wage and treated like shit like porters and cleaners, and I imagine they will take a bank holiday if offered – as I would in their position.”

Last week, the chief executive of the King’s Fund, Richard Murray, warned that the NHS was “being shaken to its foundations as we head into the winter months in the grip of a worsening staffing crisis”.

Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, said the health service was in “critical condition” with waiting times “worse than they were in previous winters”.

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