Aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery, like various other medical specialist treatments and operations, slowed down – or depending on urgency – stopped altogether when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its’ height.
In part one of this double article, prominent consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Mr Kelvin Ramsey, talks how the pandemic initially affected plastic surgery and how healthcare providers have expertly resumed operations in a completely different landscape.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect plastic surgery?
The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for everybody, both patients and doctors alike, as you can imagine. Right at the beginning, in the spring of 2020, the health service both for private and NHS patients changed dramatically overnight. In the early stages of the hard lockdowns, we were only looking after patients who needed urgent or life-saving procedures. And appropriately, we did not perform any other operations that could safely be delayed because we were trying to minimise the exposure of patients to coronavirus.
Over the last two years, the world – and health services – have changed. Pathways have been put in place to make it safer for patients to come through the hospital environment for treatment. At times, when the coronavirus pandemic has been at its height and when we’ve been in lockdowns, we’ve been adjusting the procedures to make sure that we’re not exposing anybody, patients or staff alike to an unnecessary risk from the virus.
Fortunately, in the UK, with the assistance of the vaccine programme, we seem to be on the way out, I would hope. We’ll be living with coronavirus for many years but from a healthcare point of view, things are looking much more favourable. We have safe pathways for urgent and non-urgent procedures to make sure that everybody is protected but also, to make sure that patients get their much-needed operations.
Is all plastic surgery going ahead post lockdown?
At the moment, the answer to that question, is fortunately yes. So, whether it’s a reconstructive procedure for cancer surgery or whether it’s subsequent adjustments, or even aesthetic procedures, both myself and the vast majority of my colleagues are carrying out such operations at the moment.
If the pandemic deteriorates and the hospitals become overwhelmed, then we may need to adjust the patient pathways and start postponing their surgery. I think that is unlikely to happen from now on because of the success of the vaccine programme.
Will there be a long wait to be able to have a procedure?
There is always a short wait to have an operation from the time that you’re seen in the outpatient clinic to the operation date. From a logistical point of view to arrange appropriate pre-operative assessment, arrange theatre time and ensure that sufficient consultation and consent processes have been completed.
Within the NHS there are some significant waiting lists at the moment, unfortunately because of the backlog after the pandemic. Within the private sector the waiting lists are much less.
Obviously, patients are still prioritised within both sectors if they have urgent problems such as cancer but within the private sector for non-urgent procedures, the waiting lists are very manageable at present.