Hundreds of operations cancelled in month for ‘capacity reasons’

Hospitals cancelled almost 20 operations a day in December due to problems such as bed and staff shortages, NHS figures indicate.

A lack of capacity was the reason given for why 600 surgeries – 2.4% of all planned procedures – did not go ahead in the final month of last year.

It was down from the 3.4% of planned operations that did not take place for non-clinical reasons in November 2018.

That spike linked to the unplanned and temporary closure of an equipment decontamination centre in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS area.

Figures for December show while 24,522 operations were planned, 2,237 of these had to be cancelled.

Overall, 9.1% of planned surgeries did not take place, compared to a 10.8% cancellation rate in December 2017.

The latest figures showed in December 2018, 801 operations were cancelled by patients themselves, with 774 no longer taking place because of clinical reasons.

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Having an operation cancelled is undoubtedly distressing for people.

“These figures are unacceptable and show the exceptional strain our health service is facing, with more and more surgeries cancelled due to a lack of space or staff.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Hundreds of patients had their operations cancelled in December alone through no fault of their own.

“These cancelled operations shake up the lives of patients and their families and can have a serious impact on both their physical and mental health.”

He added: “The Health Secretary has been warned time and time again that staffing levels are not where they need to be.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The cancellation of any operation is never taken lightly and any postponed procedures will be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.

“Boards work hard to keep cancellations to a minimum and to ensure that those with the greatest clinical need, such as cancer patients, do not have their operations cancelled.

“These latest figures show that during December 2018, 719 operations were carried out on average per day, with only 2.4% of planned operations being cancelled for capacity or non-clinical reasons.

“We continue to support NHS boards to reduce the number of cancellations and we expect boards to communicate with patients and reschedule appointments as soon as possible.”