NHS England postponing routine surgeries in response to COVID-19 outbreak

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the health service is suspending non-urgent elective surgery in an effort to free up staff and beds to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Stevens said the assumption is that these surgeries "will be suspended everywhere from April 15 at the latest, for at least three months, with a discretion for hospitals to take action earlier if they need it."

In a letter to senior managers and hospital trusts, Stevens and NHS chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard said the health service would "come under intense pressure" when the virus peaks, although emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other urgent care would continue as usual. The executives told hospitals to "urgently discharge all hospital in-patients who are medically fit to leave," and "community health providers must take immediate full responsibility for urgent discharge of all eligible patients identified by acute providers on a discharge list."

Further, the letter explained how the NHS was also "block-buying" capacity in private hospitals, which is expected to be completed within two weeks. "Their staff and facilities will then be flexibly available to you for urgent surgery, as well as for repurposing their beds, operating theatres and recovery facilities to provide respiratory support for COVID-19 patients," the letter said. NHS England hopes the measures will free up 30,000 NHS hospital beds.

Meanwhile, data from the UK and globally suggested a "significant" number of patients with COVID-19 who were hospitalised required respiratory support, "particularly mechanical ventilation and to a lesser extent non-invasive ventilation," the letter said. "Work is well in hand nationally to secure a step change in oxygen supply and distribution to hospitals," it added. Stevens noted that "for some weeks now we have been preparing and procuring our mechanical ventilators, and can see a line of sight over the next several weeks to another 3799."

The German government recently put in an order for 10,000 ventilators for intensive respiratory care from Draegerwerk, while Hamilton Medical and Getinge have said they are ramping up production of ventilators by 50% and 60%, respectively, in a bid to keep pace with global demand.

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