A&E pressures lead to 648 cancelled operations in one month

Almost 650 planned operations were cancelled in hospitals across Northern Ireland last month for "non-clinical" reasons such as winter pressures and staff sickness
Seanín Graham

WINTER pressures led to the cancellation of almost 650 planned operations in hospitals last month, the Irish News has learned.

The figure is a slight improvement on the same period last year when all five health trusts took the unprecedented step of postponing 800 planned surgeries due to rocketing A&E attendances.

Sources say trust bosses were under pressure not to repeat the move - which made national headlines - after former health minster Jim Wells and his department were harshly criticised for failing to intervene and lack of transparency on the issue.

While it is not unusual for planned operations, such as hip and knee replacements, to be put back at this time of year there were concerns raised earlier this month when it was revealed that at least four cancer surgeries had been cancelled in January.

The Health and Social Care Board confirmed that the highest number of for non-medical reasons were in the Belfast Trust, at 271 - but this was compared with 339 in January 2015.

A Board spokeswoman said that 97 per cent of planned surgeries and day-case procedures took place in hospitals in January compared with 96 per cent last year.

"Elective (planned) procedures can be cancelled for a range of reasons, including due to staff sickness and the unavailability of beds. While trusts take steps to avoid this, in particular for urgent cases, there will be occasions when due to circumstances this is unavoidable," she said.

"The reduction in the number of patients who had their treatment cancelled during January 2016 is due to the plans put in place by trusts for the winter period which sought to minimise the level of cancelled elective activity."

Dr George O’Neill, a Belfast GP, warned last night that patients were beginning to accept lengthy waiting lists and cancelled operations as "the norm".

"People just seem to be biting the bullet and putting up with year-long waiting lists and cancellations, when this shouldn’t be the case," he said.

"Things are at last beginning to move with the re-introduction of the private sector contracts to reduce the NHS backlog but this is only a short-term fix following the £40 million investment by the Department - it only takes us up to March. What's going to happen after that?"

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