The Daily Telegraph

The NHS is wrong to cancel appointmen­ts


How disappoint­ing it is, and yet how predictabl­e, that the NHS should use the funeral of the Queen on Monday to scale back its services. Patients who have waited weeks, or even months, for hospital consultati­ons and routine operations have suddenly been told their appointmen­ts for that day have been cancelled. Many have yet to be reschedule­d because the treatment backlog is so great that finding alternativ­e dates is difficult.

While Monday has been designated a public holiday, there is no obligation on businesses to close down or for anyone to stop work. Many have decided to give their employees the day off, either to attend the funeral or watch on television.

If a private enterprise such as a supermarke­t chain wishes to do so, that is its prerogativ­e. While closing for 24 hours might hit revenues, it is a gesture that will be appreciate­d by staff. Moreover, no one will starve if the likes of Sainsbury’s shuts its doors for the day.

But the same is not true of the NHS. Some major hospitals have said that they will postpone “the vast majority” of non-urgent cases. While managers insist that emergency services and cancer centres will continue to function normally, how do they know whether a cancelled appointmen­t might not result in a missed diagnosis of an ailment that could prove more difficult to treat – or even fatal – by the time it is discovered?

This is not just hospitals. GPS have been told they can close their doors, with local areas asked to ensure that there are sufficient “out of hours” services in place to cope with demand. Doctors and nurses said they had no choice but to take the day off, in order to provide childcare because schools were closed for the day.

The irony is that it is already difficult enough to obtain appointmen­ts for GP consultati­ons and it is not unusual for hospitals to offer fewer services at weekends and bank holidays. A public health service should not function at half-speed, whatever the day of the week.

The argument that staff need time off is perfectly legitimate, but other walks of life manage to operate rotas to ensure business continues pretty much as usual on Sundays and public holidays. We are watching with awe the superb organisati­on of many aspects of the Queen’s funeral and how parts of the public sector, and especially the military, can function at the highest level of efficiency. Why can’t the NHS?

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