Rise in operations being cancelled at the last minute

Rise in operations being cancelled at the last minute

Published by Maria Greenwood at 7:12am 17th December 2019.

More patients are having their operations cancelled at the last minute at the Dorset County Hospital.

NHS England data shows 157 non-urgent procedures, such as hip or knee operations, were cancelled by the Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at the last minute in the three months to September.

This was an increase of 62% from the same period last year, when there were 97 last-minute cancellations.

Photo of Dorset County Hospital

'What is a last minute cancellation?'

A last-minute cancellation is defined as being either on the day that a patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived, or on the day of the operation itself.

The data covers cancellations for non-clinical reasons, such as bed or staff shortages.

'The national picture'

There were almost 21,000 last-minute cancellations across England in the same period, an increase of 13% compared to the same period last year and the highest number since records began in 1994.

Professor Derek Alderson, president of the RCS, said it is "incredibly disappointing" for both patients and staff when operations are cancelled.

He said:

"To have an operation cancelled after waiting many weeks or months not only puts the patient's health at risk but often has important social consequences such as more time off work.

"Patients deserve to have their treatment within a reasonable timeframe.

"However, the number of cancelled operations is rising, because the NHS has been working to an ever tighter budget, with fewer hospital beds and more gaps in staff rotas.

"This is the result of several years of inadequate investment in hospital infrastructure and beds."

Dorset County Hospital Theatre


According to the NHS Constitution, hospitals must reschedule cancelled operations within a maximum period of 28 days.

If they are unable to do so, they must instead fund the treatment with another hospital and forfeit their payment from the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group that funds healthcare in the area.

However, 11 (7%) patients at the Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust were not treated within this timeframe between July and September.

This is an increase on the previous year, when three patients, or 3%, weren't treated within 28 days.

An NHS spokesman said:

"These figures reflect significant increases in demand for both emergency and planned care, but despite this the number of cancelled urgent operations remains low set against the millions of operations performed in the NHS each year."