Almost 20,000 operations cancelled across north last year
ALMOST 20,000 planned operations were cancelled in hospitals across the north last year.
Responding to an assembly question, health minister Michelle O'Neill said a total of 19,717 elective procedures were cancelled for either 'non-clinical' and 'other reasons' between April 2015 and the end of March this year.
Non-clinical reasons, which include equipment failure or unavailability, list over-runs and emergencies, accounted for more than 5,500 of the cancellations.
'Other reasons' can include patient cancellation and a patient being clinically unsuitable to undergo a procedure.
Concern was expressed last night that the figures highlight a health service increasingly unable to cope with demand.
The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast was the worst offender with more than 3,000 operations called off within the 12-month period - half for non-clinical reasons.
The City Hospital in Belfast has the second highest rate of cancellations with well over 2,000, followed by Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital.
Previous figures showed that more than 150,000 appointments - almost one in 10 - were also postponed in the 12 months up to April.
More than a third were because a consultant was unavailable.
The Health and Social Care Board said it was "regrettable" that any planned elective operations could not go ahead, but noted the high number of patient cancellations.
"During 2015/16, 8,927 (63%) of planned operations cancelled for other reasons were as a result of patient cancellations and 3,174 (22%) were due to the patient being clinically unsuitable to undergo the planned procedure," a spokesman said.
"There will always be occasions when short notice hospital cancellations for non-clinical and other reasons are unavoidable, eg equipment failure, if a surgeon, anaesthetist or other theatre staff become unavailable due to sickness, bereavement etc.
"It should be noted that only 2.4% of scheduled elective operations (where a date has been fixed) in 2015/16 were cancelled for non-clinical reasons."
Measures being taken to reduce the number of cancellations include expanding pre-operative assessment services to ensure that patients are medically fit and still wish to proceed with surgery.
SDLP MLA Gerry Mullan, who tabled the assembly question, said "serious questions" must be asked about how the health service is run.
"The cancellation of appointments because of equipment failure, staff shortages and other mounting pressures on the system demonstrates that our health service simply cannot cope and that the situation is getting worse, not better," he said.
“The minister must examine the individual reasons for this unacceptably high number of cancellations and work with the trusts to address them as a priority."