NHS Providers responds to BBC research on cancelled operations

22 September 2016

Commenting in response to a BBC investigation into the number of cancelled operations in the English NHS (based on Freedom of Information requests sent to NHS trusts), Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said:

“The BBC’s analysis shows that thousands of patients are having their operations cancelled on the day of, or in the run up to, their scheduled surgery. We recognise the stress this can cause patients and NHS trusts know they must do all they can to minimise this disruption to patients.

“This is a complex picture and there are many reasons why operations are cancelled at short notice. Some of these may be due to poor scheduling and a lack of effective planning but this is very often not the case. Increasingly, we are hearing from NHS trusts that it is often down to a more general lack of availability of critical care beds and a lack of anaesthetists and surgeons. It is also often down to ever increasing emergency cases requiring theatre time that exceeds level of demand that has been expected.

This is a complex picture and there are many reasons why operations are cancelled at short notice

“NHS trusts are increasingly confronting a finite number of beds and staff – at the same time that demand for care from patients is rising significantly. We are now seeing even the most effective trusts struggling with increasing waiting lists as the demand for emergency surgery and inpatient beds displaces planned elective operations. For these reasons, trusts are now looking at alternatives to transform the ways in which they work by consolidating surgical services, either across different sites within the same trust or across trusts to form specialty centres.

“But even the best planning in the world will never get this spot on – NHS trusts always run the risk of under-using their theatre time or pushing through as much activity as possible which increases the likelihood of some cancellations and rescheduling.

“Finally, while the BBC’s analysis has suggested there are greater numbers of cancelled operations than are being reported in the official figures, NHS trusts are reporting the numbers in the way that is mandated by NHS England. We need to have a standard way of recording the number of cancelled operations across the health service so it is important that there is consistency in how this is measured and reported.”
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