Pressure on 'overstretched' NHS blamed for last minute cancellations across East Lancashire

Some 174 non-urgent operations were cancelled in the three months leading up to September
Some 174 non-urgent operations were cancelled in the three months leading up to September
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Almost 175 patients at the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have had operations cancelled at the last minute.

Figures from NHS England show that 174 non-urgent operations, such as hip or knee procedures, were cancelled by the trust at the last minute in the three months to September.

The data covers cancellations for non-clinical reasons, such as bed or staff shortages.

The Royal College of Surgeons has blamed pressure on the over-stretched NHS for the increase in cancellations across England.

At the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, there were fewer cancellations than during the same three month period in 2017, when there were 192.

However, the RCS also warned the figures could be masking the true scale of the problem, as they do not include operations cancelled at more than 24 hours' notice.

A last-minute cancellation is defined as being either on the day that a patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived, or on the day of the operation itself.

Professor Cliff Shearman, vice president of the RCS, said: “It is distressing to have an operation cancelled at the last minute and any delay in treatment could mean a patient’s condition deteriorates.

"These figures do not bode well for the winter months ahead, when hospitals traditionally see an increase in pressure."

If a trust is unable to reschedule the operation within 28 days, it must instead fund the treatment in another hospital.

It also forfeits its payment from the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, which funds healthcare in the area.

There were 18,460 last minute cancellations across England in the three months to September.

Of these, 8.3% of patients did not have their operations rescheduled within 28 days.

Nationally, this rate is higher than the same period a year ago, when it was 6.8%.

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, said: "Sadly, this is not a surprise. Although these numbers are small, this is yet another sign of how difficult the NHS is currently finding it to provide as much planned care as people need.

"Last month, we saw waiting times reach their worst level in nearly a decade."

A spokesman for NHS England said: “Only a small minority of operations are cancelled on the day, while 15,000 fewer people now wait a year for their operation compared with 2010.

“New guidance issued to trusts recently will see local health service leaders allocate extra funding to community services, like district nursing teams and outreach clinics, to help them care for more patients, freeing up hospital beds and staff to reduce surgery waiting lists.”