Pre-planned operation cancellations on the rise

The number of operations being cancelled in Lothian due to a lack of beds is on the rise. File picture: Getty

The number of operations being cancelled in Lothian due to a lack of beds is on the rise. File picture: Getty

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Patients are facing disruption to their care in the Lothians after new figures revealed 13 per cent of pre-planned operations were cancelled in November.

Official statistics have laid bare the strain on stretched resources as around three operations were re-scheduled each day due to lack of beds, staff or equipment.

Operations are often cancelled for understandable clinical reasons but it’s clearly unacceptable if lack of capacity forces someone’s treatment to be postponed.

Alison Johnstone

The number of cancelled procedures has risen in recent months with 749 surgeries cut in November compared to 551 in May – leaving Lothian as the worst performing health board in Scotland.

Politicians branded the figures “concerning” and called for greater investment in social care to prevent bed blocking – where people cannot be discharged due to a lack of somewhere safe to go.

Cancelling operations is usually a last resort for hospital bosses, as it can have a negative impact on both doctors and patients.

Alison Johnstone, health spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Lothian, said: “Operations are often cancelled for understandable clinical reasons but it’s clearly unacceptable if lack of capacity forces someone’s treatment to be postponed.”

Patients themselves were responsible for around half of the cancelled electives.

Dr Richard Simpson, Labour public services spokesman, said NHS needed to move away from “short-term crisis management” and ease the strain on hospitals. He said: “Scottish Labour would invest in social care to take the pressure off of our hospitals, allowing more people to get the care they need in their homes and freeing up space and resources in our hospitals.

“It’s time we moved away from short-term crisis management in our NHS to investing for the long term, building a health service fit for the challenges of the 2040s, not the 1940s.”

NHS chiefs apologised to patients whose appointment had been cancelled but stressed that the majority of slots were offered to someone else rather than wasted.

Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS 
Lothian, said: “There are unavoidable circumstances which often mean operations have to be rescheduled, including emergency admissions, which obviously have to receive priority and cannot be planned for.

“Over the last seven months, until November, a total of 36,346 patients have been cared for in the theatre system in NHS Lothian. Around half (2,097) of the number of procedures which were re-scheduled were at the request of the patients who cancelled them.

“In the majority of cases we ensure that the vacant slot is not wasted and it is offered to another patient for treatment.

“However we are keen to ensure patients keep their appointments and it is a key priority to develop a number of schemes to make it easier for them to attend, including patient-focused bookings in some speciality areas and allowing patients to arrange an appointment at a time suitable for them.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com