Operations cancelled at the last minute, reach record new high
During the last three months of 2016 more than 21,000 operations were cancelled at the last minute.
Despite there only being 1 per cent more operations scheduled than the previous year, the cancellation rate jumped by 15 per cent.
Surgeons are placing the blame on elderly patients who are taking up beds because of the lack of social care to discharge them from the already overcrowded wards.
The data released by the Department of Health is the latest that show winter 2016/17 is the worse faced by the health service in over a decade.
Patients have had to wait more than a month for their operations to be rescheduled.
It is usual for cancellations to rise in the first three months of a new year, and after the chaos faced by most A&E departments over the new year, January to March 2017 may be set to break another record.
Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told The Times: “Last-minute cancellations are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more patients are cancelled in the days before their operation is due. It is heart-breaking for patients to psychologically prepare themselves for an operation, only to be told that it can’t go ahead. Often it is because there are no free beds either due to increased emergency admissions or slow discharge of patients who are fit to leave hospital but have no community care or home support to go to.”
Many hospitals have seen their bed capacity hit 95.8 full, which is the highest average on record. Some hospitals, such as the Princess Alexandra in Harlow, Hillingdon hospitals and North Middlesex in London, said they were 100 per cent full. 25 Trusts reported bed occupancy above 99 per cent.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said that such problems were “completely unacceptable”. He told the BBC there were “no excuses” for long delays, but insisted the government had a plan to deal with rising numbers of patients because of an ageing population, medical advances and better treatments.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Jeremy Hunt appears to be finally waking up to the scale of the crisis but he must now accept responsibility. Instead he offers just hand wringing but no solutions. This week we have seen more and more statistics revealing that patients are waiting longer, and suffering longer in discomfort.”
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