Highest number of cancelled operations at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust since pandemic began

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“Often there will be a surgeon available to operate, but no theatre nurses or anaesthetists”

More elective operations were cancelled at the last minute by Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust in the three months to December than in any of the last five quarters, new figures show.

NHS England suspended collecting data on cancelled operations from April 2020 through September 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but since restarting, the number of cancelled operations across England has risen by 10% in the last year.

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An operating theatreAn operating theatre
An operating theatre

The Royal College of Surgeons of England said no surgeon wants to cancel operations, but high demand and the lack of social care leading to a delay in discharging patients has made this impossible.

Earlier this month, NHS England announced 37 new surgical hubs, 10 expanded existing hubs and 81 new theatres dedicated to elective care.

NHS England figures show 234 elective operations were cancelled at the last minute in the three months to December at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – up from 200 the previous quarter, and the highest since October to December 2021, when data collecting was resumed.

It meant a total of 793 operations were cancelled on the day the patient arrived at hospital, after they arrived, or on the day of the operation itself in 2022.

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Mr Tim Mitchell, vice-president of the RCS of England, said: "No surgeon wants to be in the position of telling a patient their surgery has to be cancelled but the very high demand we have seen in emergency departments since the summer, and problems discharging patients who are ready to leave hospital when there is a lack of social care, mean this is too often what has to happen.

"Gaps in the workforce also play a huge part. Often there will be a surgeon available to operate, but no theatre nurses or anaesthetists."

More patients of cancelled operations across England also had to wait longer to be treated again.

Some 4,590 patients were forced to wait more than 28 days to be treated following their operation being cancelled in the three months to December – up from 4,150 the previous quarter.

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Of these, 15 were at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust – down from 17 the previous quarter.

On the new hubs being created, Mr Mitchell added: "We would like to see surgical hubs established in every area of the country with a particular focus on underserved areas and struggling to bring down waiting times.

"All of this will also mean nothing in the long term unless we have a resilient workforce to staff hubs. The Government’s much-anticipated workforce plan cannot come soon enough."

The Department for Health and Social care said bringing down waiting lists and providing the highest quality care is a "top priority", and that the rise in cancellations was driven by the increase in booked operations.

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A spokesperson added: "The NHS has already made strong progress in tackling the Covid backlogs, virtually eliminating waits of over two years for treatment – the first target in the Elective Recovery Plan – and all efforts are being made to deliver the next ambition to eliminate waits of 18 months or more by April."