Thousands more NHS operations cancelled than figures show, report claims

About half of English NHS trusts admitted in response to Freedom of Information requests that they had cancelled nearly 42,000 operations between one and three days before patients were admitted.

It comes after official figures in May showed the number of hospital operations in England cancelled at the last minute because of a lack of staff or beds rose to 74,086, its highest in 15 years. However, that statistic only records cancellations on the day of admission.

The BBC, which carried out the investigation, says the new figures give a picture more in line with official figures published in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the definition of last-minute cancellations is wider and is taken over several days.

FoI requests were submitted to all 156 NHS trusts in England, asking them to provide figures for operations cancelled one to three days before patients were due to be admitted. Data from the 74 trusts which replied suggested they cancelled 41,474 operations within the period.

May’s official figures marked the worst record of cancellations for the NHS in England since 2001-02, when 81,743 patients had procedures cancelled on the day they were supposed to happen. Experts warned that the data was a sign of the pressures on the health service.

At the time, Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said that pressures on A&E units, staff shortages, and bed shortages due to a lack of social care for discharged patients were contributing to the problem.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “The proportion of patients seeing their operations cancelled at the last minute remains under 1% in spite of record numbers of operations being scheduled.

“Our national data collection rightly requires trusts to focus on monitoring the number of last-minute cancellations, as this is where the most distress is caused for patients.

“Hospitals should continue to ensure that every effort is made to reschedule cancelled operations as soon as possible.”