Same-day COVID tests key to restoring surgery

  • Date: 26 June 2020

DOCTORS need access to same-day coronavirus testing in order to safely restore elective surgery.

A survey conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng) found the speed at which test results can be returned is a crucial factor in enabling more elective operations to go ahead.

Patients would ideally be tested both before and upon admission, and again upon discharge, the College said.

Surgical staff working in so-called COVID-light sites – where only virus-free patients are treated – should also be tested up to twice a week.

Other recommendations that emerged from the survey of more than 1,700 surgeons and surgical trainees included wider access for surgical teams across the UK to COVID-light sites. This would allow people waiting for time-sensitive operations to be treated safely.

The survey found that a third of surgeons had been unable to undertake any elective or planned procedures in the four weeks leading up to June 15. Of those who had resumed surgery, 30 per cent said it was only possible for cancer patients.

When asked about barriers to restarting elective surgery, almost half (46 per cent) cited a lack of access to interdependent services such as diagnostics and anaesthesia, while around a third cited lack of staff or lack of testing. A fifth blamed lack of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

Almost all respondents who had been able to resume planned procedures (91 per cent) said patients were receiving pre-operative tests for COVID-19, in line with recommendations from NHS England. Only 10 per cent of surgeons were able to get test results for patients within eight hours, while a further 31 per cent could get results within 24 hours.

RCSEng president Professor Derek Alderson said: "The speed at which tests results can be returned is a crucial factor in enabling more elective surgery to take place safely. The aim should be for surgeons to have access to same-day test results, so that they can test patients both before and on admission, and again upon discharge – nine in ten surgeons we asked agree.

"If patients have a negative COVID result on the same day of their surgery and have isolated for a fortnight as recommended, then the surgical team can proceed with greater confidence. Operating on a patient who has COVID-19 is not a good idea, so the more we can do to reduce that risk, the better."

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