Barts Health perform over 140 urgent cancer operations during coronavirus pandemic by merging hospital waiting lists

Barts Health NHS Trust has performed more than 140 urgent breast cancer surgeries during the coronav

Barts Health NHS Trust has performed more than 140 urgent breast cancer surgeries during the coronavirus pandemic by merging waiting lists from the three hospitals where such surgeries are normally performed. Picture: PA/Peter Byrne - Credit: PA

The team at Barts Health NHS Trust has performed more than 140 urgent breast cancer operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, by pooling staff and patients from three hospitals and introducing strict infection control protocols.

Staff shortages and reduced theatre space during the peak left many vital surgeries in jeopardy; in response, the trust merged waiting lists from the hospitals where breast cancer surgery is typically performed — St Bartholomew’s, Whipps Cross and Newham — ensuring that those most in need were seen first.

The majority of surgeries have taken place at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and in the independent sector (performed by Barts Health surgeons) under current NHS agreements,

In terms of measures taken to reduce infection, those undergoing surgery were asked to self-isolate for two weeks prior to their operation, and full PPE was worn by staff and patients at all times.

This strategy has allowed a significant number of urgent surgeries to take place in a timely fashion, something which has pleased trust breast surgeon Laura Johnson: “By working as one big team we avoided a situation whereby there was a backlog of people requiring surgery at one particular hospital.

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“Prioritising all patients based on their clinical need meant that, each patient, irrespective of their home site, had equal access to the surgical space available.

“Furthermore, if for any reason someone’s surgery could not take place, we were in a position to quickly and easily offer that slot to the next patient on the list.”

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Professor Peter Schmid, a clinical lead at St Bartholomew’s, said that it was a “huge achievement” that “we were able to maintain a practically normal service” during the pandemic.

Working with a smaller team, the trust organised it so that a deputy surgeon was in place for every procedure, meaning that no scheduled theatre session has been lost over the past eight weeks.

This new system has also ensured fairness, said Laura, with merged waiting lists meaning that no one patient has been prioritised based on location.

In describing the operation as “a phenomenal effort”, the surgeon praised “everyone involved in keeping the service going”.

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