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COVID-19 update from the President - 3 April

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons

03 Apr 2020

Professor Derek Alderson

Surgeons are playing a vital frontline role in the fight against COVID-19. Their heroic efforts are making a significant contribution to the national battle against Coronavirus, both stopping the spread and treating patients who need urgent hospital care. 

This is an extremely challenging time for everyone.  The recent, tragic deaths of two of our surgical colleagues from the coronavirus is a huge loss to the surgical community.  Dr Adil El Tayar, a transplant surgeon died at West Middlesex University Hospital last Wednesday (25th March).  ENT surgeon Mr Amged El-Hawrani worked at Queen’s Hospital in Burton and died on Saturday (28th March).  On behalf of all members and fellows of the College, I offer my sincere condolences to their families and colleagues at this time.  Their deaths remind us all of the personal risks frontline doctors and nurses are taking here in the UK and around the world, every day.

We are extremely grateful to all of our members for their courage, selflessness, and dedication to their patients during this time. The ‘clap for carers’ initiative shows the huge gratitude the public feel towards NHS frontline staff.

However, as well as applauding the efforts of our surgeons, we also want you to know that we are speaking up for you. Your personal safety and well-being is our top priority. We have listened to your concerns and frustrations about the availability and suitability of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in NHS/HSC hospitals across the UK. As such, we have been working closely with the Westminster Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive to find an urgent solution.

At the weekend, we fed back on the rapid review of Public Health England’s guidance for PPE. We have consistently argued that frontline NHS staff should be better protected at work, and produced joint surgical guidance that threw down a gauntlet to policy-makers.  Yesterday, the government issued improved and upgraded PPE guidance, which encourages the use of gowns instead of aprons and makes clear the need for FFP3 level masks especially around aerosol generating procedures.  This is a very welcome development, led by the royal colleges acting in concert through the Academy. But guidance in itself doesn’t protect the workforce:  we are calling on government to get PPE kit urgently to the frontline.

Meanwhile, we have also been urging NHS England to ensure staff can be tested for the virus as a priority. Surgical teams deserve to know if they are personally at risk. The Government is now committed to increasing testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April though questions are rightly being asked about why these preparations were not made earlier.

This week we have also focused on the substantial disruption that COVID-19 has caused to the professional and personal lives of our trainee surgeons. Many have been deployed to work outside their usual areas of work, rotation dates have been shelved for April, TIG fellowships have been postponed, and exams have been cancelled. Some trainees will now have to undergo a self-assessment process against a pro-forma prior to being offered specialty posts.

We are committed to ensuring both that training is sufficient for those working outside their usual scope of practice at this time, and that those on the frontline of this crisis get an opportunity for much-needed leave afterwards.  Bill Allum and I hosted a webinar on the issues for trainees on Wednesday, which you can watch online.

At the other end of the career path, we are grateful to the many retired surgeons who have volunteered to return to service.  We have been working with the BMA to ensure that the terms on which people re-enter are satisfactory, and of course our wider work on PPE is particularly essential to ensure those returning staff in older age groups are protected.  The BBC, The Times, and Medscape News UK have all covered NHS staff returning this week, each highlighting one of our own council members, Richard Kerr, who has volunteered to return to his hospital in Oxford.

As surgeons, we are all doctors, with broad training in medicine.  We will need to work together over the coming weeks and months to maximise our resources and free up time for the frontline A&E doctors and others to be able to focus on the patients who need them most.  Our role at RCS England is to help NHS leaders and the government to identify shortfalls and find solutions for our workforce.

We all need to pull together to manage this unprecedented, national situation and to achieve the best outcomes for our staff and patients.  Below is a list of the latest resources from RCS England on Coronavirus, and if there is anything further that you would like to see us do to support you, please contact us on We will do our best to help.

Thank you again to everyone on the front line.

Professor Derek Alderson PRCS


A reminder of RCS England resources for surgeons

To help advise you on training and working practices during this time we have produced the following guidelines:

  1. In guidance for surgeons we published on 20 March, we repeated the need to protect the workforce, and flagged the need for training in use of personal protective equipment (PPE).  The government published updated guidance yesterday, and we published our response.
  2. General surgery guidance on adjustments to surgical practice has been published by the joint surgical Royal Colleges alongside ASGBI, ACPGBI and AUGIS.
  3. COVID-19 Good Practice Guidance published this week provides advice on the different situations that surgeons may be faced with in this period, and how best to navigate them.
  4. I also hosted a webinar last week to discuss this, and the raft of work underway here at the RCSEng in support of the national effort. You can watch the recording here

We keep this list regularly updated at

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