Lizzy Buchan: Cancelled operations are part of a complex picture

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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Whether it is a dodgy knee, a tooth extraction or something more serious, preparing for an operation can be nerve-wracking for anyone.

There are always risks associated with any surgery, however small they might be, and there are also the more mundane concerns to tackle, such as taking time off work or arranging childcare.

Having an elective operation cancelled – especially on the day – is far from ideal.

Patients have said how worrying and painful it can be to wait for treatment, as well as irritating because of the need to make new arrangements.

One Edinburgh family told me last week that doctors had postponed vital surgery for their one-year-old son four times due to bed shortages at the Sick Kids Hospital.

Doctors hate these cancellations too, as they are usually out of their control and they will have spent time preparing for the operation.

Politicians and journalists are often accused of unfairly presenting the data on cancelled operations to have a pop at the NHS.

While in some cases this may be true, it is still an area which deserves proper scrutiny as it shines a light on the inner workings of Scots hospitals.

We all know that the population is ageing, that people are living longer with multiple complex conditions. We also know that there are problems with workforces in both hospitals and primary care as Scotland’s GP crisis is well-documented.

What we do not know is how that manifests on a daily basis.

Unpicking the layers of data actually reveals a fascinating picture of how hospitals plan their resources and how the public can take the NHS for granted.

The latest figures show that 9.7 per cent of the 30,000 operations across Scotland were postponed during December.

Of these procedures, 590 operations were cancelled for non-clinical or capacity reasons, such as bed shortages and lack of staff.

This is a small proportion of overall operations but a significant figure out of the postponed surgeries.

It is also the highest number since the NHS started publishing the figures in May 2015.

However, we must not ignore the fact that nearly half of postponed operations are cancelled by the patient themselves.

Sometimes this is unavoidable but we should question whether the figure is so high.

Health boards say they can usually reschedule another operation to fill the slot but even this is an additional strain on stretched resources.

Research also found around 17,000 people failed to show up to a hospital appointment on five or more occasions last year, which is clearly an added burden.

The Scottish Government needs to keep its eye on the ball to ensure health boards are properly resourced, so NHS bosses can make sure they are putting patients first.

As the Holyrood elections approach, politicians need to be asking harder questions and exploring bolder options, as the situation cannot continue as it is.

Alongside that the public should reflect on what each of us could do to help, even if it is just turning up on time.

The NHS is free but that doesn’t mean it does not have a value. If patients do not appreciate the service then it is clear that we will have to pay in more ways than one.