'Alarming' rise in number of cancelled operations in Scottish hospitals as decisive action demanded

An “alarming” rise in the number of cancelled operations in Scottish hospitals has sparked calls for decisive action.

Monthly data from Public Health Scotland showed there were 21,094 planned operations for June – a drop of 3.7 per cent from 21,895 in May.

However, 2,000 of these operations – 9.5 per cent of all those planned – were cancelled on the day the patient was due to be treated, or on the day before.

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Health secretary Humza Yousaf (right) speaks to Jim Miller, chief executive of NHS 24. Picture: PA

The figures have prompted the Scottish Liberal Democrats to call on the Scottish Government to take “decisive action” to tackle the problem of cancelled surgeries.

Analysis carried out by the party revealed some 329,243 patients have had operations lost since the start of the pandemic.

Party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These new figures show that no meaningful action is being taken to combat the backlog. The continuing loss of these procedures means thousands of people are in pain and suffering disruption waiting for vital operations.

“Services are being overwhelmed. With a lack of any decisive action from the Cabinet secretary, it is clear that our NHS needs new hope.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton urged health secretary Humza Yousaf to set out a timescale for clearing the backlog when Parliament returns after summer recess.

Of those operations that were cancelled, 724 were put back by the hospital due to clinical reasons while 569 were impacted due to capacity or non-clinical reasons.

Some 601 operations were cancelled by the patient and a further 106 were due to “other reasons”.

The number of planned operations is still lower than when compared to pre-pandemic levels, with 21.7 per cent fewer operations planned than there were in June 2019.

The number of planned surgeries later fell to 20,192 in March 2020, before dropping to just 3,406 by April that year.

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These alarming statistics are part of an interlinked series of bottleneck problems that all add up to a crisis in Scotland’s NHS. It’s a crisis which Humza Yousaf seems powerless to stop.

“The rise in cancelled planned ops is very concerning because it impacts not just on the physical health of patients, but their mental wellbeing too. They will have psyched themselves up for treatment and when that then doesn’t go ahead, it comes as a huge setback.

“The number of cancelled planned ops is clearly affected by delayed discharge – a problem which the SNP have been vowing, and failing, to get on top of for years.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These statistics refer to the peak of the latest Covid wave. Despite high rates of Covid-19 and seasonal pressures including increased staff absence, more than 90 per cent of operations were performed as planned – an average of 636 a day.

“The most common reason for cancellations of operations was for clinical reasons.

“We are working with NHS boards to get those who have had treatments or procedures postponed due to Covid-19 the care they need as quickly as possible.

“Throughout the pandemic, NHS boards have ensured that urgent, maternity and vital cancer services continue as usual and have worked hard to ensure vital cancer care remains in place where clinically agreed.”

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