THE trust which runs Winchester hospital has been forced to make the “difficult decision” to postpone some planned operations due to a surge in Covid patients.

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT), which also operates Basingstoke and Andover hospitals, has said that it is under increasing pressure due to a rise in the number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 who need hospital care.

In a statement to the Chronicle chief executive Alex Whitfield, pictured, said that cancellations are being done in a “phased way with as much as possible being maintained”.

However, she continued: “Over the coming days it is likely an increasing number of our patients will be affected. Those who are impacted by this decision will be contacted individually; those not contacted should continue to attend as normal.”

As of Monday morning, the trust was treating 163 Covid patients – 57 at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and 106 at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital - an increase of 41 patients since Wednesday, December 30

At the peak of the pandemic in April, the highest number of patients in HHFT hospitals with Covid was 148.

The figures have gradually been creeping up again since early October.

Ms Whitfield said: “Our hospitals are busy, but we have plans in place to cope with an increase in activity, including redeploying staff where necessary and making the difficult decision to postpone some planned operations in a phased way – with as much as possible being maintained.

“Cancer and other urgent operations, and as much planned care as possible, are continuing to go ahead - as is all emergency care; make no mistake, your NHS will be here if you need us.

“Our staff have worked tirelessly over the last year to provide the best care to everyone who needs our help – both with and without Covid-19 – and they will continue to do so as we look towards a challenging couple of weeks.”

While the trust has said cancer operations will continue, concerns have been raised by support organisations.

Rachel Billsberry-Grass, Wessex Cancer Trust’s chief executive, says this represents further uncertainty for cancer patients.

She continued: “The NHS is having to make difficult decisions to cope with the increasing pressure caused by Covid-19.

“The past year was incredibly difficult for anyone who experienced delays to their cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the latest news will undoubtedly add to the uncertainty and anxiety many cancer patients are feeling.

“We urge anyone in this situation to speak to their doctors and ensure their treatment is considered on an individual basis and that they understand the reasons why any treatment has been postponed.”

Macmillan Cancer Support executive director of policy and communications Steven McIntosh said: “Any cancer patient who sees delays to tests or treatment as a result of these extreme NHS pressures will be desperately anxious and scared. It is critical that any changes to cancer care in Hampshire and elsewhere are carefully discussed with patients and are based on their individual needs, to ensure they access vital tests and treatment and are kept safe from the virus.

“Despite the pressures on the health service, anyone with cancer symptoms must still get in touch with their GP straight away, as NHS staff have been doing incredible work to adapt services to ensure you can still be checked out safely.”

Kruti Shrotri, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: “It’s extremely concerning to hear that cancer surgery is being delayed in some parts of the country, and this shows just how much the NHS is struggling to cope. We know NHS staff are doing everything they can to protect services and deliver urgent cancer care. During the first wave, the independent sector enabled some cancer surgery to continue so it’s vital that this option remains available for NHS use. Ultimately, lowering Covid cases is the answer to take the pressure off the NHS which is where we can all play our part.

“To those who are experiencing delays and cancellations, we understand how incredibly hard this is, and we’re doing all we can to support the NHS to protect cancer services. Anyone who thinks they might have signs or symptoms of cancer, please go and see your GP – the NHS is still open to see you.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, said: “The NHS is working on overdrive to prioritise all urgent Covid and non-Covid care. At the same time, we must not lose sight of people with heart conditions whose planned treatment has been delayed. Surgery and other invasive procedures to treat heart disease are not luxuries that people can easily go without – delaying them can cost lives.

“The significant backlog of people needing cardiovascular treatment will keep growing as Covid-19 cases soar. This may only be the tip of the iceberg as the true scale of the disruption to cardiovascular healthcare is still unknown.

“The moment the current crisis abates, we need to urgently address the backlog of people waiting for treatment before it becomes too late for some. To do this, hospitals will inevitably need more and ongoing investment in cardiovascular care.”

Hampshire Hospitals is encouraging people to follow the guidelines and “look after yourselves”.