25,000 ops cancelled... because no beds are free
That’s 100 every day, 35% more than f ive years ago
TWENTY-FIVE thousand operations are cancelled every year because hospitals are so full, an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found.
A l ack of beds is f orcing t he cancellation of 100 operations every working day across t he NHS in England – a figure that has risen 35 per cent in just five years.
Dozens of trusts have seen bedrelated cancellations double since 2012, with one soaring seven- fold. Even urgent heart and cancer ops are being delayed, sometimes repeatedly, due to the shortage. The consequences can be fatal.
Last night Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said ‘ major log- jams’ on wards were bringing hospitals to a standstill, warning: ‘Large numbers of patients are suffering.’
And Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘The beds crisis is spiralling from chronic to acute. There’s no doubt our bed occupancy rates are too high – nowhere near where they should be to be prepared for winter.
‘We just don’t have enough beds in to cope with the demands of emergency or pre-planned care.’ He said 5,000 extra beds were needed. But there are plans afoot to strip out thousands more so the money can be reinvested in ‘community care’.
The Mail on Sunday calculated around 25,000 planned operations were cancelled due to bed shortages last year, after sending Freedom of Information requests to England’s 153 NHS hospital trusts.
We asked them to provide a breakdown of last-minute cancellations by cause: lack of beds, operating theatre capacity, staffing, and equipment failures. We requested five years of annual data.
By Friday, 92 had responded with full figures for 2016/ 17. They reported 15,370 bed-related last-minute cancellations in total. Scaled up to account for trusts which failed to give details, it can be estimated there were 25,500 bed- related cancellations in English hospitals last year.
Prof Alderson said cancellations were ‘ devastating’ for patients and ‘demoralising’ for staff. ‘It’s incredibly frustrating,’ he explained. ‘ On the day a surgeon has to cancel a major case, which might have taken hours, they can end up sitting twiddling their thumbs. It’s a massive waste of resources.’
As a whole, beds account for a third of last-minute cancellations; operating theatre capacity 28 per cent; staff shortages or sickness 14 per cent, equipment eight per cent and the remaining ‘other’.
Dr Hassan said the findings ‘absolutely support’ the belief that a scarcity of beds is at the heart of the NHS’s problems. Last month the King’s Fund think-tank found Britain had just 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000 people. France has 6.1, Germany 8.1.
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The fact is that the num-
‘It’s a massive waste of resources’
ber of cancelled operations remains low at just one per cent in the context of the millions of operations performed in the NHS each year.’