Patients died after the NHS cancelled appointments to remove objects left inside them, a University of Oxford study into indirect Covid deaths during the pandemic has found. 

Researchers uncovered 23 reports from coroners in England and Wales who found deaths had occurred which were largely preventable. In two instances, patients died when medical equipment was left inside them after operations were cancelled. 

A further two people lost their lives after being wrongly diagnosed with Covid via remote telehealth appointments, while two more died from medication errors linked to the pandemic response.

One man who was admitted to hospital with a fractured hip caught Covid after being placed in a bay where it was circulating. An elderly woman was wrongly diagnosed with the virus and put into isolation, where she had a fatal fall while on her own. 

Three more people committed suicide after being unable to access help.

Researchers at Oxford said the cases, between March 2020 and June this year, were likely to be an underestimation because there was a large backlog of inquests.

In numbers: How Covid impacted NHS treatment in 2020

In a pre-print published on the medRxiv server, the authors concluded: "This finding highlights the importance of considering the harms of measures and policies that were implemented to reduce the transmission of Sars-Cov-2 in the community.

"Redirected social interaction and changed working conditions or a loss of work and income have negatively affected the mental health of adults in the UK.

"Six million patients in the UK did not seek treatment in 2020, coined ‘missing patients’, owing to the reprioritisation of healthcare services.

"It is likely that the number of preventable death reports relating to Covid-19 will increase in the coming months and years owing to the backlog of inquests a well as the time it takes for inquest to conclude, and PDRs to be written and uploaded to thejudiciary website."

Experts have warned that a health timebomb is looming because large areas of the NHS ground to a halt during the Covid crisis, with millions of operations and appointments cancelled. There are estimates that more than 50,000 people missed cancer diagnosis last year. 

Currently, some 5.3 million people are waiting for routine operations and procedures in England, but Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has warned that could hit 13 million. 

The researchers have called on the Office of the Chief Coroner to establish a new category for Covid cases to help with an official inquiry into the pandemic response.