Pandemic pressures cause over 100 cancelled operations

Pandemic pressures caused the last minute cancellation of over 100 operations in South Tyneside and Sunderland in the last three months of the year, according to new figures.
South Tyneside District Hospital.South Tyneside District Hospital.
South Tyneside District Hospital.

NHS England figures for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – which runs Sunderland Royal Hospital – show that 60 pre-booked operations were postponed on or after the day the patient was admitted between October and December.

The Trust says that – due to a recording error – the figure is actually 116 and that it represents “only a small number” of the 6,685 operations in did undertake in those three months.

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It also says the figures do not record which operations were cancelled by the Trust because of pressures caused by the pandemic or other reasons and how many were cancelled at the request of the patient.

Dr Sean Fenwick.Dr Sean Fenwick.
Dr Sean Fenwick.

Dr Sean Fenwick, director of operations at the Trust, said: “COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on NHS services and unfortunately like many other Trusts across the country, we had to take the very difficult decision to postpone a small number of routine operations and minor procedures towards the end of last year.

“We know how important it is for our patients to have their treatment as soon as possible and we never underestimate the impact that delays have on them and their loved ones.

"Our teams have worked tirelessly and under exceptionally challenging circumstances to ensure that we bring patients back in for planned care as soon as we are able to. Waiting times across our region remain better than the England average.”

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NHS rules state that patients who have their operations cancelled at the last minute must be offered a new operation date within four weeks.

The figures show 20 of the affected patients at the South Tyneside and Sunderland Trust had to wait more than 28 days for a new date, the figures show.

The NHS cancelled 19,300 elective surgeries for non-clinical reasons over the three-month period – equating to 1.1% of all activity – a similar proportion to the same quarter in 2019-20, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the percentage of patients waiting more than a month for operations to be rescheduled rose sharply from nine per cent to 24% nationally – 4,600 breaches of the NHS standard.

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Common non-clinical reasons for last-minute cancellations include a lack of hospital beds, surgeons being unavailable, emergency cases taking precedence, equipment failure, staff shortages and patients nor wishing to go ahead with operations.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the NHS needed more staff and resources to tackle the problem.

She added: "Every cancellation just adds to the backlog NHS England is trying to clear and the growing number of patients waiting for treatment.

"The challenge for the NHS is managing to treat all the people currently waiting for care and treatment, while also managing patients newly seeking care."

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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the Government's plan to tackle the Covid-19 backlog and deliver long term reform would mean 99% of patients would wait less than a year for treatment by 2024.