Record number of NHS operations cancelled at last minute

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RCS blames increase on ‘extreme pressures’ and Labour says it is a ‘badge of shame’ for ministers

The number of operations cancelled at the last minute by NHS hospitals in the first quarter of the year was the highest since records began in 1994, official figures show.

There were 25,475 such cancellations in the first three months of 2018, equating to 1.3% of all admissions, the highest proportion since 2005.

The Royal College of Surgeons blamed the increase on “extreme pressures” on A&E departments and delayed discharges.

Its vice-president, Ian Eardley, said: “Patients are being forced to wait too long for planned surgery and an unacceptable number have suffered the stress of having their operation cancelled at the last minute. It is very distressing for patients who are often in pain or immobile, and the delay could mean that their condition deteriorates.”

The last-minute cancellations were on top of the large number postponed in advance. Over the winter NHS England told hospitals to cancel tens of thousands of planned operations in order to free up beds.

The statistics published on Thursdayalso show that 11.6% of patients who had their operation cancelled did not have their treatment rearranged within 28 days – again the highest proportion since 2005.

The number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks to start planned treatment was 491,102 in March, up 35% on a year ago. Only 87.2% of patients were seen within 18 weeks; the government’s 92% target has not been met since February 2016. The number of patients having to wait more than a year for treatment rose to 2,755, up 80% on a year ago.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, described the record number of cancelled operations as “a badge of shame for ministers”, blaming a lack of investment.

The proportion of patients at hospital A&E departments treated within the government’s four-hour target was 82% in April, well below the 95% standard but an improvement on the historic low of 76.4% in March.

The regulator NHS Improvement said: “Too many patients are still waiting too long in A&E and for planned surgery.” NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said services were clearly overstretched.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government had committed to a “sustainable multi-year settlement” for the NHS to help manage growing patient demand.

“The number of cancelled operations remains low in the context of the millions of operations performed in the NHS each year,” he said.

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