Operations cancelled at last minute

CONCERNS over hospital bed shortages have once again been raised as statistics reveal hundreds of operations were cancelled at the last minute in the region in just three months.

CONCERNS over hospital bed shortages have once again been raised as statistics reveal hundreds of operations were cancelled at the last minute in the region in just three months.

Some 230 operations were stopped for non-clinical reasons at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital from April to June this year, according to the Department of Health figures.

There were also 77 operations cancelled at the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston, in the same quarter; 66 at the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust; and 65 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

If an operation is cancelled it should be re-scheduled within 28 days but out of 230 N&N patients there were 28 who were not re-operated on within this timescale, four at the QEH and one at the James Paget.

While health bosses at the N&N say the high number reflects the high number of patients at the hospital, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said it was further evidence of the pressure it was under.

“I have serious concerns about the pressure the hospital is under,” he said. “It is the most horrendous thing for a patient who is already anxious about a desperately-needed operation to then be told it is cancelled at the last minute.

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“We need to take action now because the hospital could soon be at breaking point. It is not fair on staff or patients. We are coming up to winter and also expecting a second wave of swine flu, so the pressure then will be even greater.

“This needs to be sorted out at an absolute emergency.”

As reported last month, health bosses at the N&N admitted for the first time that they needed more beds as pressure on wards and units showed no sign of easing.

It came as figures showed the hospital's emergency assessment unit is almost always full above capacity. The result is that sick patients are being left on chairs for hours because of the high number of patients coming to hospital.

A spokesman from the N&N said: “The numbers reflect the fact that we are one of the busiest hospitals in the country and our staff treat large volumes of patients.

“The number of cancelled operations equals just 1pc of the total number of patients we treated in that period. We try, wherever possible, to avoid cancelling routine operations and we understand the anxiety it causes for patients and relatives.”

Nick Coveney, director of nursing and patient services at the James Paget, said: “We do our utmost to avoid cancelling operations, but occasionally do need to postpone elective surgery for reasons beyond our control. This includes staff absence and emergency admissions such as urgent trauma cases.

“We contact all of the patients affected and arrange an alternative date for their surgery as early as we possibly can.”

A QEH spokesman reiterated this and said: “We do everything we can to avoid cancelling operations, but occasionally need to postpone elective surgery for reasons beyond our control.”

During the quarter ending June 30, 2009, 14,036 operations were cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons. In the same period in 2008, there were 14,543 cancelled operations.

Of this year's cancellations, 561 (4pc) of patients were not treated within 28 days of a cancellation. In the same period in 2008, 669 (4.6pc) of patients were not treated within 28 days.

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