Serious surgeries being cancelled on the day

New research from the Royal College of Anaesthetists has found that a significant number of patients requiring serious surgery are having operations postponed on the day it has been planned for.

Published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the study looked at 26,171 in-patient operations scheduled to take place between 21 and 27 March 2017, in 245 NHS hospitals across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of those in-patient operations, 3,724 were cancelled or postponed on the day of surgery, giving an overall cancellation rate for all surgery of one in seven operations during this period.

Furthermore, of 14,936 patients undergoing elective, non-emergency inpatient surgery, 10 per cent had previously had the same operation cancelled at least once before. The research also found that the presence of an emergency department made cancellation of surgery in that hospital five times more likely.

Where operations had been cancelled previously, insufficient bed capacity (31 per cent), insufficient operating theatre capacity (12.7 per cent) and other potentially avoidable non-clinical reasons, such as staff shortages or equipment failure, accounted for approximately half the total number of cancellations. Clinical reasons accounted for 33 per cent of cancelled operations.

Liam Brennan, president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: “Cancelling an operation for any reason can be extremely distressing for a patient. As a specialty working with two thirds of all hospital inpatients, we are all too aware of the difficulties that can lead to surgery being deferred.

“We fully support working with all relevant specialties to better understand the reasons for this widespread problem with the aim of developing an action plan to reduce clinical and nonclinical cancellations. This will ultimately improve patient experience, clinical outcomes and go some way to reducing pressures on the NHS.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: "This report provides only a selective, limited snapshot of surgery in England, where the NHS is funding more routine operations and more people are undergoing treatment than the year before."

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