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Cancelled elective operations hit ten-year high

Cancelled elective operations were at their highest for a decade in the first three months of this year.

The latest NHS figures show that in the quarter ending 31 March, 23,180 operations were cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons, compared to 20,464 in the same period in 2014-15.

Of these cancellations, 1849 (8%) were not treated within 28 days of the cancelled operation, although this represents a proportionate decrease from the same period last year, when 1787 (8.7%) were not treated within 28 days.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “For many patients the wait to receive surgery can be both frustrating and daunting. In addition, many patients will have made arrangements, such as child-care, which have to be changed. It is crucial that the waiting time and operation reschedule standards are adhered to. Furthermore, patients must be made aware of their right to these limits under the NHS Constitution.

“The fact that the number of cancelled operations has hit a 10-year high is alarming. For years we have seen patients bearing the brunt of the NHS cuts and we are now seeing the true devastation of the NHS reforms. Waiting times for treatment, test results, access to treatments and medicines have all been affected. The evidence now suggests that patients who need operations are also suffering too because of cuts.

“These are not just statistics, these are people’s lives and delayed operations can impede a patient’s quality of life. We urge the Department of Health to ensure that services are properly resourced and managed so they can provide the care that patients need.”

But an NHS England spokesperson blamed the figures on the effects of the junior doctors’ strikes, saying: "Hospitals should continue to ensure that every effort is made to reschedule cancelled operations as soon as possible, but we can clearly see the effects of delayed care and industrial action hampering their ability to do so towards the end of the year.”

However, Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "There are likely to be a number of factors behind this rise that government and the NHS need to continue to tackle including pressures in emergency departments, staffing shortages, and lack of bed availability due to rising delayed transfers of care. Industrial action may not have helped but the underlying causes are likely to be more strongly related to the broader pressures the NHS faces."

Junior doctors are currently in talks with the government in a bid to resolve the contract dispute that led to the strikes.

More NHS performance figures, released last week, show that the number of patients not being seen within four hours of admission to A&E is also at an all-time high for the third month in a row.

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