Patients forced to wait for operations to be rescheduled

Patients are facing long waits for operations to be rescheduled after hospitals cancel them at the last minute, figures show.

One in 13 (8%) operations that were cancelled at the last minute in the three months to December were not rescheduled within the mandatory 28-day period set down by the NHS.

This is the worst proportion on record for 14 years and has been getting worse year on year.

In the previous two years, 7.3% of operations were not rescheduled within the timeframe, while the figure was just 3.8% in 2011/12.

Generic health pics
An operation taking place (Rui Vieira/PA)

The data covers cancellations for non-clinical reasons, such as bed or staff shortages, and does not include patients cancelling the operations themselves.

Last minute means on the day the patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived in hospital or on the day of the operation or surgery.

The worst performer was Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

There were 160 cancellations and 52 were not rescheduled, giving a breach rate of 32.5%.

Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had 40 cancellations and 12 not rescheduled (30%), while North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust had 37 cancellations and 11 not rescheduled (also 30%).

In total, 73 trusts performed worse than during the previous year.

The highest number of cancellations overall was University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, with 667 cancellations.

The NHS England data did show, however, that the overall number of cancelled operations across England has slightly fallen.

There were 20,145 last-minute cancellations of non-urgent operations, such as hip or knee surgeries, during the three-month period, down on the same three months in the previous year, when there were 21,984 cancellations.

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons said: “Waiting for surgery is a very stressful and worrying time for patients and their families, and such long waits are simply unacceptable.

“The longer patients wait, the more risk there is that their conditions may deteriorate.”

The RCS blamed pressure on A&E departments for the delays in rescheduling surgery.

“Recent NHS data shows that January saw the worst A&E performance on record,” the spokeswoman continued.

“It is inevitable that this pressure on A&E will have a knock-on effect for bed capacity, and therefore on planned surgery, during the coming months.

“The RCS strongly believes that the NHS needs to commit to increasing hospital bed capacity.

“Without extra beds, we fear hospitals will struggle to properly tackle long waits for surgery.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “The number of cancelled routine operations has fallen, despite significant pressure on emergency services.

“Fewer than 1% of operations are postponed on the day, and nurses, doctors and NHS leaders across the country are also rightly prioritising emergency patients over the winter period.”