NHS patients ‘left in pain and limbo' after 13,000 operations cancelled over last two months

An “alarming” 13,000 NHS operations have been cancelled in the last two months alone as patients who had prepared themselves for vital hip, knee and other types of planned surgery, were left waiting in limbo and in pain for their treatment.

According to the figures, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s (RCEM) Winter Flow Project for 2021-22, some 6,726 elective care operations were cancelled in November, while in October the figure was 6,335. The exact reasons for the operations being cancelled are unclear, though the majority were cancelled by the NHS. The NHS itself paused recording the number of cancelled operations due to the pandemic and has just resumed counting.

There were 26,436 acute hospital beds available at the end of November, a slight decrease on the previous week but almost 1 per cent higher than the number in early October from the project starting point. The number of patients staying more than 12 hours from arrival to departure in emergency departments stood at 4,785 according to the latest figures, representing almost 7 per cent of all A&E attendances.

Last year the RCEM warned that investment and planning would be needed to ensure that the rising levels of demand at the tail-end of winter 2020-21 did not collide with ongoing infection prevention issues to create dangerously overcrowded emergency departments through the spring and summer.

“Regrettably that warning was largely unheeded, and without additional support, trusts saw demand surpass pre-pandemic levels by May, while also juggling the residual effects of the winter Covid spike,” the project report says.

“The result was a four-hour performance figure during July, August and September (65.9 per cent) that would ordinarily have set alarm bells ringing even if it were recorded during the peak of winter. Now, as we approach another winter, this performance is likely to deteriorate further, with pressures reaching levels unseen for over two decades.”

NHS patients ‘left in pain and limbo’ after 13,000 operations cancelled over last two months
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The NHS’s four-hour A&E target dictates 95 per cent of all emergency patients in England should be admitted to hospital or discharged within four hours of arriving.

Surgeons called for an urgent effort to get those patients who are fit to be discharged from hospital back into the community, freeing up beds for patients who need an operation.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “It is very alarming that more than 13,000 planned operations were cancelled in the past two months alone. This means thousands of patients who had prepared themselves for vital hip, knee and other types of planned surgery were left waiting in limbo for their treatment.

“NHS staff are working flat out, but, as this report shows, there simply are not enough hospital beds to meet the huge demands we are seeing in the wake of the pandemic. Colleagues working in emergency medicine have been facing ‘winter pressures’ since the summer.

“Their concerns to avoid ‘corridor care’ are well-founded. An urgent effort is now required to get those patients who are fit to be discharged from hospital back into the community, freeing up beds for patients who need an operation.”

Professor Mortensen said the College agrees with the RCEM that the Government must increase the number of hospital beds. “The NHS is staffed by world-leading doctors and nurses – they cannot care for patients properly with a bed base the size of a postage stamp,” he said.

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