Published: 07:00, 03 February 2017
| Updated: 07:01, 03 February 2017
An NHS group is so short of cash it has cancelled all non-emergency operations.
The move would mean no urgent surgery for up to 102 days in an unprecedented move.
Around 1,700 patients will be affected by West Kent clinical commissioning group’s attempt to save £3.2m by delaying non-urgent operations until the new financial year starts in April.
We reported the plans when they were announced just before Christmas now it's claimed the ban is the longest in health service history, affecting patients undergoing surgery to relieve pain, immobility, disability and other problems.
The 1,700 patients include those waiting to have a new hip or knee fitted.
The Royal College of Surgeons has hit out at the move, branding it "unprecedented and unfair".
The group has implemented the policy in a bid to make financial savings of £3.2 million.
Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, warned that the short-term savings may have "major consequences" for some of the patients.
Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat Health minister, has responded.
He said: “Patients who are in severe pain should not have to wait for a new financial year to have an operation. This is not what our NHS is about.
"What we need instead is a new financial plan from the government to deliver the funding the health service needs.
“This is the longest ban in NHS history on patients undergoing surgery to relieve pain.
“There is a major crisis in funding. The NHS is too important to use as a political football."
In 2015-2016 West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group spent £533.1 million on patient care - providing for the 463,000 residents in the area.
Dr Ian Ayres, West Kent CCG's accountable officer told the Guardian newspaper that some of those requiring a hip or knee replacement "although suffering continued discomfort, would be able to wait longer for their operation without there being an adverse outcome for their health."
He added: "We are working with our providers to identify exactly which patients will beaffected, but estimate the number of patients affected to be in the order of 1,700."
Meanwhile, a woman who has been waiting almost a year for an operation has been told staff have 'absolutely no idea' when she will be treated.
Sarah Compton, 33, says she has been told she could be waiting months for her chronic sinusitis to be operated on.
Mum-of-two Sarah, who lives in Edenbridge, said: "I rang a couple of weeks ago to get a date for my operation.
"I was told the hospital had no beds and were cancelling operations left, right, and centre, and that they had to work through the cancellation list without beds before thinking about the waiting list, which I'm on.
"I need to have my sinuses drained as I have cysts under my eyes which are very painful.
"I have absolutely no idea when my operation could be and I don't know where I am on the waiting list.
"It's very painful, and this is making me really agitated and upset.
"The lady on the phone was so blunt and blase about it.
"I first saw a doctor last April to organise the operation, had a CT scan in June, and a pre-op at the beginning of December, but I'm still waiting."
Sarah says she has looked into having the operation done privately, but was told it could cost between £3,000 and £5,000.
The stay-at-home mum, who has two children - Dara, four, and Olivia, 10 - believes her condition is having a negative affect on her family life.
She said her trouble sleeping is not only painful to her, but is putting unnecessary strain on her relationship with husband Owen, 33.
Sarah added: "We're all very angry about it.
"Chronic sinisitus affects my sleep, because I can't breathe properly, so I'm constantly tired and run down.
"It's starting to affect my family life.
"Everyone I've told has been really surprised and shocked.
"Some of them asked if I was sure about the delay - it's beyond the realms of possibility, it's a joke.
"I can understand they need to save money but I don't understand where it's gone - why is there no money?"
Dr Bob Bowes, chair of West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "It is important to stress that Patients will continue to be referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment and those requiring urgent treatment will still receive it.
"No-one with an urgent health care need will be made to wait.
"In some cases a judgement will be made as to whether a required procedure is non-urgent and could wait.
"For example, for a hip or a knee replacement, some patients would be able to wait longer for their operation without there being an adverse outcome for their health.
"These decisions are never easy but they are necessary if we are to remain within budget this year.
"We have not prescribed in advance a list of procedures or patients to be delayed so that this can be considered on an individual basis to make sure that anyone needing urgent treatment continues to get this.
"Anyone who has had a procedure booked, will be treated.
"No-one will have their operation or procedure cancelled as a result of this policy."