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Royal Colleges appeal to Select Committee for ‘urgent action’ to make hospitals safe

16 June 2020

In advance of an oral evidence session with the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee this morning (Tuesday), the Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng) and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) have issued a joint memorandum to MPs calling for urgent action to help the NHS recover from COVID.

The Royal Colleges argue that the NHS “cannot continue to function as a ‘COVID-only’ service”, and press for planning now to deal with a ‘hidden waiting list’ of patients who have not yet been referred, and to avoid further suspension of life-saving treatments if there is a second wave of COVID-19.

The memorandum also features early results from a survey of 1,692 surgeons, which indicates a third do not yet have access to “COVID-light” facilities for their patients. Results from a survey of 1,167 RCEM members indicates that seven out of ten do not think they have enough side rooms for patients in their Emergency Department.

Commenting, Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England says:
“An enormous effort is being made on the frontline to get the NHS back on its feet again, but restarting services is proving more complex than switching them off. The NHS has coped with COVID by suspending almost all planned surgery, creating a huge backlog of patients waiting for treatment, many waiting in pain and distress.  We need to see urgent action to develop more COVID-light sites, where surgery can take place safely.  This would allow some surgery to continue even in the event of a second wave of the virus.”

Dr Katherine Henderson, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine added:
“The NHS has done well to cope during this period, but we need to find ways of balancing treatment of COVID-19 with routine and emergency care. Much work needs to be done to get this balance right. Going back to overcrowded Emergency Departments would be a disaster and would seriously risk spreading COVID-19. We need to ensure that A&Es are physically large enough to keep patients safe and have adequately resourced alternative care pathways available 24/7 including primary care and NHS 111 services.”


  1. Professor Alderson and Dr Henderson discussed the contents with MPs on 16 June 2020.
  2. The RCS surveyed 1,692 surgeons and surgical trainees between 8 and 14 June 2020.
  3. The RCEM surveyed 1,167 Emergency Care clinicians between 22 May and 7 June 2020.
  4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
  5. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine is the single authoritative body for Emergency Medicine in the UK. It represents over 9,000 fellows and members, who are doctors and consultants in emergency departments working in the health services in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and across the world.
  6. For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.
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