Operations cancelled as NHS A&E reaches breaking point

13 January 2015

Operations cancelled as NHS A&E reaches breaking point

Operations cancelled as NHS A&E reaches breaking point

NHS hospitals struggle to cope with demand as thousands of operations are to be cancelled with warnings of inevitable patient misery.

Latest figures from the health industry show that UK A&E departments are under such severe pressure that thousands of patients face cancellations for expected operations and will be left in discomfort and pain while waiting for new undetermined dates for their procedures.

Patients to suffer "considerable distress"

As a result the leader of Britain’s surgeons has warned that patients affected will suffer “considerable distress” due to the sharp rise in the number of forced postponements due to patient demand choking A&E ability to service scheduled operations.

Such is the level of patient demand that, compared to this time last year, three times as many planned operations are being cancelled in England this winter. A total of 12,345 were suddenly called off between 3 November and 4 January, a rise of 32% on the 9,320 seen in the same period in the winter of 2013-14.

Over the Christmas period the NHS experienced some of the most intense pressure it has ever had to deal with, leading to some 3,771 procedures being cancelled three years before and during the festive period. These procedures covered elective procedures such as hernia repairs and hip or knee replacements.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “The continued rise in the number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons remains of deep concern.

“Telling a patient that they cannot have the operation they have waited and planned for can cause considerable distress to the individual and their family. As surgeons we are doing our best to manage our patients’ conditions and to make sure they can have the surgery at a time when they need it.”

Delays can often exacerbate injury or an ailment and is particularly a problem in relation to eye surgery where vision can rapidly deteriorate without prompt care. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) confirms this warning that patients with failing eyesight awaiting cataract operations will suffer as a result of extended delays to surgery.

“Patients tell us of their frustration at having lengthy waits for cataract surgery and their distress at having to live with reduced vision unnecessarily,” said Clara Eaglen, the charity’s policy and campaigns manager. She further said that older people forced to wait were at risk of depression, social isolation and fall-related hip fractures.

Patient demand also means there are not enough beds and staff available to deal with the preparation and aftermath of surgical procedures. For instance, the Oxford University hospitals trust cancelled 792 elective operations this winter – the highest number in England – while 402 have been postponed at the Imperial College healthcare trust in London, 361 at the University Hospitals of North Midlands trust and 306 at the Norfolk and Norwich university hospitals foundation trust.

Not enough beds and nursing staff available to deal with demand for surgeries

Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, said the growing number of postponements showed problems in A&E were now affecting other NHS services.

“The A&E crisis is intensifying and spreading to other parts of the NHS. An operation being cancelled is an experience that causes a great deal of stress and anguish and it’s one nobody should have to go through,” said Burnham. “Patients in all parts of the NHS are now being made to feel the effects of the crisis in A&E.”

Growing cancellations were part of the reason why the number of people waiting for planned treatment was at its highest for six years, he added. The waiting list of people supposed to be treated within 18 weeks of referral by their GP has risen from 2.57 million when the coalition took power in May 2010 to 3.2 million.

NHS England said that patients whose surgery had been cancelled should have the operation rescheduled within four weeks, at another hospital if necessary.

“At this time of year doctors and hospitals are rightly prioritising emergency and urgent patients,” said a spokesman. “The NHS constitution is clear that patients whose elective operations are postponed must then be treated within 28 days, and also have the option of choosing to have their treatment faster at other convenient hospitals.”

Patient Care Options

Have you or a loved one wanted to raise a complaint with the NHS  regarding medical mistreatment that has been experienced at a NHS hospital or even at a private hospital? Our specialist teams can provide FREE advice about what your options are, whether you want to make a medical negligence claim or medical mistreatment complaint or simply to better understand what your patient rights. You can contact us here today for  a no-obligation and completely free conversation to discuss what happened to you.