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Rising number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons

Tens of thousands of patients are having their operations cancelled due to staff shortages and equipment failures

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 04 November 2019

Growing numbers of patients are having their operations cancelled due to staff shortages and equipment failures NHS data obtained by Labour through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has revealed.

Last year, 78,981 urgent operations and elective operations were cancelled at the last minute – either on the day the patient was due to arrive in hospital or after they had already arrived. Sometimes cancellations are for clinical reasons, other times it can be for non-clinical reasons such as lack of beds, staffing shortages, adverse weather, equipment problems, booking/admin errors.

NHS data reveal that the number of operations cancelled specifically because of staffing issues and equipment failures has increased by a third in two years. Last year, 10,900 were cancelled because of staffing issues and 4800 were cancelled because of equipment failures.

There are currently over 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS, with shortages of 10,000 doctors and 43,000 nurses. Cuts to NHS Capital Budgets have left the health service with a £6.5 billion repair bill.

Labour sent FOI requests to all acute hospital trusts in England to ask them to provide the total number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons, broken down by the cause of the cancellation. 82% of hospital trusts responded.

The figures showed that the number of cancellations of urgent operations and of elective operations at the last minute had increased from 74,170 in 2016/17 to 78,981 in 2018/19 and that growing numbers were being cancelled for non-clinical reasons. The operations cancelled as a result of staffing issues increased from 8,231 in 2016/17 to 10,909 in 2018/19, and the number of operations cancelled as a result of equipment failures jumped from 3,739 in 2016/17 to 4,858 in 2018/19.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, said: “That so many more people in pain and distress are forced to endure cancelled operations, including increasingly on the day they were supposed to have treatment, is a shameful indictment of a decade of Tory cutbacks running our NHS into the ground.

“The simple truth is under the Tories, patients wait longer and longer for vital care. This general election is about the future of the NHS and ensuring quality care for all.”

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