Since April 15th, the NHS has been forced to cancel non-emergency operations due to the strain of the Coronavirus outbreak. But what are your rights if an operation that would improve your life has been cancelled, and how long are you expected to wait for a rescheduled date?
Find out more about Coronavirus surgery cancellations, how to complain about a cancelled operation and whether you are entitled to compensation below.
Why Are the NHS Cancelling Operations?
Even in normal times, it’s not unusual for non-emergency NHS operations to be cancelled. There are a number of reasons to cancel surgery that aren’t clinical, such as the lack of availability of beds, equipment failure, staff being unavailable or the need to prioritise emergency cases.
However, with the spread of Coronavirus, the number of operations being cancelled has quickly increased as the need to release capacity at hospitals and containing the risk of infection has become a top concern.
On 15th April, the NHS made the decision to cancel all non-essential surgeries for three months. This means that many more people are now facing an anxious wait to have procedures re-booked as theatres begin to reopen once more.
Research estimated that over 28 million operations would be cancelled or postponed during the peak 12 weeks of disruption due to COVID-19, so if you have had an operation cancelled due to COVID, you’re not alone.
What Happens When My Surgery is Cancelled?
There are a number of procedures in place designed to minimise the impact of a cancelled operation, including re-booking protocols and maximum wait times.
If your procedure is cancelled on the day of surgery, you should be offered a rescheduled date within 28 days. However, if your procedure is cancelled further in advance (which is very likely for COVID cancellations), you’re not entitled to a new date within 28 days and the wait could be significantly longer.
So how long might you wait for treatment? The NHS maximum wait time for a cancelled non-urgent operation is 18 weeks. This means that from the date of your referral by your doctor, you should be seen, and preferably also undergo treatment, within 18 weeks.
How to Complain About a Cancelled Operation
It’s not uncommon for wait times to extend beyond 18 weeks. It’s also foreseeable that, in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak, there might not only be longer waits for rescheduled surgery, but also a significant backlog of non-emergency patients which might delay things further.
If your wait time has extended beyond 18 weeks, you have the right to complain to PALS (Patient Advice and Liason Service) at the hospital or Clinical Commissioning Group, and ask for your care to be moved to another hospital.
Are You Entitled to Compensation?
Although we are living in unprecedented times and most of us are very grateful for the amazing health system we have here in the UK, life has not entirely ground to a halt due to COVID-19, and those who need emergency and life-saving treatment should have access to it.
If you have suffered harm that would usually have been avoided if it weren’t for a protracted delay, this is likely to be a breach of duty of care. In such cases, you could be entitled to compensation.
Let Howells Help You Get the Compensation You Deserve
If you have had an operation cancelled due to COVID or any other reason, and believe you may be eligble for recompense, please get in touch with our experienced legal team to find out more about medical negligence compensation and if you have a case.