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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Three times the operation was cancelled because there was no intensive care bed free"
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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 18:16 GMT
Cancer surgery postponed four times

Mavis Skeet Mavis Skeet is waiting for cancer surgery

A cancer patient has had important surgery cancelled four times because of the flu crisis.

Mavis Skeet, 74, has been waiting for five weeks to find out if her cancer of the oesophagus has spread.

Flu nightmare
She was due to have an eight-hour operation in December to remove her gullet and to assess the progress of the disease.

But the surgery at Leeds General Infirmary was cancelled because a member of the operating team had flu.

Since then it has been put off three more times - the latest cancellation was on Monday - because there have been no available intensive care beds due to the flu bug.

Mrs Skeet's daughter, Jane, of Horbury, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said that on one occasion her mother was being taken to operating theatre when the surgery was cancelled because her intensive care bed was needed by another patient.

Broke down in tears

This is due to lack of resources and bad planning. The government is trying to cover it up by saying the hospitals are coping, but they're obviously not
Jane Skeet, patient's daughter
She said: "This is all because of the flu crisis. My mum has been strong up to the last time, but then she broke down and was in tears.

"We are very angry. The doctors say they can't tell whether the cancer's spread until they operate, which means it could be spreading all the time while there's a lack of beds.

"This is due to lack of resources and bad planning. The government is trying to cover it up by saying the hospitals are coping, but they're obviously not.

"The operating team seems as frustrated as we are. There is just no slack in the system."

Mrs Skeet is unable to eat or drink because of her condition, which was diagnosed a year ago.

Since then radiotherapy has failed, but her operation is still not classed as an emergency.

Surgery might allow Mrs Skeet to eat and drink normally instead of being fed through a tube.

The family has been told the position is being reviewed on a daily basis.

Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor apologised for the delay
Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor, medical director for the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, apologised for the cancellations.

He said: "We understand how anxious Mrs Skeet and her family must be.

"The operation was cancelled for Mrs Skeet's safety. She would have needed an intensive care bed following the surgery and all our ICU beds are full of seriously ill patients, many of them suffering from flu-like symptoms.

"It would have been irresponsible to have carried out the operation when we could not have been sure of having an ICU bed available."

He said Mrs Skeet would have surgery as soon as the hospital was able to provide her with "safe post-operative care"
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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Health
Operations cancelled as flu bites
10 Jan 00 |  Health
Coping with the outbreak: One hospital's story
09 Jan 00 |  Health
NHS on its knees, say Tories

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