The focus on the NHS has been immense in recent weeks, as the coronavirus outbreak has swept across the UK and caused the death of more than 17,000 Brits.
In order to ease the burden on the NHS and reduce the demand for beds, the healthcare service has cancelled all non-urgent surgeries for three months from April 15th, potentially creating the space for up to 100,000 additional patients.
But is this really that unusual, and what rights do you have as a patient who has been affected by this decision?
What has Been Agreed?
In simple terms, all elective and non-urgent surgery has been suspended for three months from April 15th, although hospitals will have discretion to take action earlier if they deem it appropriate.
While the extent of the cancellations may be relatively unprecedented, it’s not a new phenomenon at all. In fact, non-urgent operations and surgeries are cancelled every year during the winter, when the NHS typically experiences peak demand.
However, such a move does have potential ramifications for patients who are directly affected and have elective surgeries booked in, particularly those in need of knee and hip replacements.
What are Your Rights?
At present, the NHS has a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for all non-urgent referrals, with this commencing from the date of referral by your doctor.
However, this isn’t always met, while the waiting time for certain procedures can be even longer in some instances. It’s also likely that this target will be completely suspended in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, as the NHS are constantly being asked to review their priorities and the needs of individual patients.
You do have some rights as an affected patient, however, particularly if your procedure is cancelled on the day of the surgery.
In this instance, you should be offered another date for the surgery within 28 days, or the hospital can fund the treatment at a date and private hospital of your choice.
If these conditions aren’t met as part of the cancellation, you retain the right to complain to PALS at the hospital or the Clinical Commissioning Group who referred you for treatment.
If your surgery is cancelled with ample notice, there’s very little that you can do from a legal perspective. After all, this situation has little in common with a medical negligence or similar claim, while the elective nature of the surgery means that your life and wellbeing isn’t immediately at risk.