Urgent operations, including for cancer, have reportedly been cancelled and “unstable” patients sent home in order to free hospital space for coronavirus cases.
The incidents come amid fears that the NHS is preparing to announce widespread suspensions of routine care in order to cope with a flood of Covid-19 patients.
In one case, a man from Kent due to undergo a double heart bypass operation on Monday was told last week that the procedure could not go ahead because staff needed to prepare for the virus.
Wayne Randall, a 39-year-old painter and decorator, said: “I’ve been trying my hardest to get my courage up for Monday at great stress, just to be told it’s cancelled. It’s so up and down – it’s really not good for my heart with the state it’s in. I’m not well at all.”
Meanwhile, a neurology patient at the Royal London Hospital, run by Barts Health NHS Trust, told The Telegraph he was asked to prepare to be discharged despite not having his pain or bladder under control or having been given an adequate diagnosis.
A spokesperson for Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We continually work hard to safely discharge patients back to the community. We would never discharge a patient unless we are confident that their clinical and safeguarding requirements are being met.”
In Inverness, a woman who had waited six months for an operation for suspected ovarian cancer was informed that the procedure could not go ahead “due to the global pandemic”.
The reports suggest that, despite NHS leaders not yet issuing guidance allowing flexibility in the provision of routine services, individual hospital trusts are taking matters into their own hands.
New guidance is widely anticipated in the coming days, but it is expected to allow the cancellation of non-emergency operations rather than treatment for cancer and other serious conditions.
The incidents came as NHS leaders called on health chiefs to scrap financial efficiency to allow them to cope with the outbreak.
On Friday, Sarah-Jane Marsh, the chief executive of the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Foundation Trust, said removing all cost improvement plan requirements for trusts would be “one of the best things the government could do for the NHS now”.
New national rules for hospital visiting have also been issued, which advise trusts to minimise patient visits to “only essential visitors that are required for patient welfare”.
Although visitors to wards with patients suffering from Covid-19 are not banned, they should be given written advice before they leave about what to do if they develop symptoms, the guidance says.
At Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, a trust caring exclusively for children, siblings of patients have been banned from visiting hours.