Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II died last week, but medical providers and patients say her passing couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The U.K.’s National Health Service is experiencing severe staff shortages and delays, and many patients said they have been waiting months to get care. But now several major hospital trusts say they will cancel or postpone all non-urgent procedures and clinical appointments, including hip and knee replacements, cataracts surgery, and some cancer treatments, ahead of the Queen’s funeral.
In a letter to a patient, the trust wrote that it was forced to cancel the procedure due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
Doctors at one London hospital trust were told: “The day of the State Funeral will be treated as a bank holiday so please go ahead and start rescheduling patients.”
It’s not mandatory for hospitals to take the day off on the day of the Queen’s funeral. The NHS says the decision should be made “locally.”
The news comes after the government announced September 19 would be a bank holiday in honor of the event. “There is no statutory entitlement to time off,” and this is “a matter for discussion between individuals and their employer,” a government memo said.
Wait times for patients in the U.K. are already at an all-time high. Records show some 6.8 million people were waiting for appointments at the end of July, and more than 377,000 of these patients had been waiting for more than a year.
The NHS also reveals that around 40% of cancer patients had their treatment delayed beyond the two-month maximum.
A pregnant woman in London said she has been trying to schedule a fetal scan at a local hospital, but the appointment keeps getting canceled due to the funeral. She had to stay on hold for several hours just to reschedule.
“I’m really disappointed,” she said. “Yes, it’s a routine scan, but that’s another week or two until I’m seen and wondering whether my baby is healthy – which means quite a lot of anxiety, sitting and waiting.”
She later received a text message from the NHS that said, “We regret that due to unforeseen circumstances, your appointment to see a member of the team in the Fetal Medicine Centre on Monday 19th September has been cancelled. A new appointment date will be rescheduled shortly.”
When hospitals announced the decision to cancel or reschedule appointments on Monday, several trust bosses said if doctors are “willing to operate,” they would be “supported”.
But it’s not clear whether doctors are willing to take the day off.
“I imagine most of the doctors would be happy to just ignore the bank holiday, but we are totally reliant on a huge team of people paid minimum wage and treated like shit like porters and cleaners, and I imagine they will take a bank holiday if offered – as I would in their position,” said one NHS doctor.
Last week, the chief executive of the King’s Fund, Richard Murray, warned that the NHS was “being shaken to its foundations as we head into the winter months in the grip of a worsening staffing crisis”.
According to Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, the health service was in “critical condition” with waiting times “worse than they were in previous winters”.