Surgeons are calling for access to same-day coronavirus testing as one third revealed they had been unable to restart patient operations.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England said more than one million people were waiting in excess of 18 weeks for hospital treatment.
Despite this, its survey of 1,741 UK surgeons found that 32.5% said elective or planned surgery had not been possible at their hospital trust at any time in the past four weeks.
A third of those who reported being unable to restart surgery (33.4%) said a lack of access to rapid Covid-19 tests for patients was to blame.
It comes just a month after NHS England outlined how elective surgery should safely be able to resume during the pandemic.
Professor Derek Alderson, president of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the speed at which test results can be returned was a “crucial factor” in enabling more elective survey to take place.
He said: “The aim should be for surgeons to have access to same-day test results, so that they can test patients both before and on admission, and again upon discharge – nine in ten surgeons we asked agree.”
If patients receive a negative Covid-19 test result on the same day of their surgery and have isolated, surgeons will be able to proceed with “greater confidence,” Prof Alderson said.
The survey, carried out between June 8-15, found that just 10% of surgeons could get test results for surgical patients within eight hours, while 31% could get results within 24 hours.
However, a further 34% said they could get results within 48 hours, and 13% said they could within 72 hours.
While testing was not the only barrier preventing elective surgery, the college said it was “likely the fastest to solve”.
Some 46% of survey respondents said a “lack of capacity” in areas such as diagnostics, anaesthesia and sterile processing had prevented them from restarting surgery, while 35% said it was due to a lack of staff.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England said “Covid-light sites” should now be considered to improve patient safety.
The sites would allow for regular coronavirus testing and enhanced cleaning to allow surgery to continue.
Prof Alderson added: “Covid-light sites must be established across the UK, both in the NHS and, where necessary, the independent sector.
“We need these protections in place to keep surgical patients safe, and right now a quarter of surgeons still don’t have access to a covid-light site.
“We have a window of opportunity this summer, before a potential second wave or the arrival of flu in the autumn.”
Prof Alderson warned: “If we don’t get organised now, then tens of thousands of people will be waiting until next year for an essential operation.”