The creation of special ‘surgical hubs’ could help to address the ‘colossal’ backlog of elective surgery, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has announced.

In a statement, the RCS has called on the government to commit an extra £1bn for surgery each year for the next five years as part of ‘New Deal for Surgery’, in a bid to tackle long hospital waiting times for surgery.

Surgeons are also encouraging all integrated care systems in England to identify at least one surgical hub where routine surgeries can continue even if COVID-19 cases grow again, due to a new variant or severe seasonal flu or winter pressures.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, all elective surgery procedures were cancelled with many surgical teams redeployed to help deal with the crisis.

As a result, the latest NHS waiting list figures in England show that 4.95 million people are waiting for surgery – the largest figure ever recorded – with 436,127 of those waiting for over a year.

The RCS’ ‘New Deal’ report makes 12 recommendations to the government, with both long- and short-term measures identified to help improve the future of surgical services in England.

Longer-term measures include aims to increase the number of hospital beds and doctors to meet the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.

This would mean boosting the number of hospital beds in England from 2.5 to 4.7 per 1,000 population, with the number of hospital doctors – including surgeons – increasing from 2.8 to 3.5 per 1,000 population.

“We need government support for a ‘New Deal for Surgery’ to reduce the colossal backlog in elective surgery and to help the NHS weather future pandemics,” said  Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

“Surgery must be available on the NHS all year-round, not stop and start. If a dangerous new variant of COVID-19 takes hold, or another bad flu arrives in the autumn, we cannot allow surgery to grind to a halt again or waiting lists will become insurmountable,” he added.