Pressures on A&E cause cancelled operations at Royal Free Hospital to double in a year

Stephen Powis, medical d irector at the Royal Free Hospital where the number of cancelled doperation

Stephen Powis, medical d irector at the Royal Free Hospital where the number of cancelled doperations has doubled - Credit: Archant

The number of operations cancelled at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead has increased by almost 90 per cent in the last three years, new figures reveal.

In 2012-13 a total of 150 elective operations had to be cancelled at the last-minute because of a surge in emergency admissions, compared to 80 in 2010/11. In 2011/12 there were 94.

The figures were obtained by the Ham&High released under a Freedom of Information request and showed the majority of cancellations were made because there were not enough ward beds available.

Since 2010, 232 operations were cancelled due to this reason, while a further 92 had to be cancelled because there was not enough room in intensive and critical care wards.

However, the number of patients who were not operated on within 28 days of a last-minute cancellation of an elective operation has decreased from five in 2010/11 to just one in 2012/13.

While cancelled operations represent less than one per cent of the total performed each year, the figures raise concerns over the pressures facing the hospital dealing with sharp rises in emergency admissions.

Nationally, the NHS has seen a sharp rise in A&E admissions over the last eight years, which is believed to be driven by an increase in older people needing treatment.

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Medical director at the Royal Free Hospital, Stephen Powis, said: “We realise any cancelled operation is not at all in the patient’s interest and do everything we can to avoid it.

“It’s a very small proportion of all of the procedures that do end up being cancelled.

“There is no doubt that in the first three to four months in the year that every hospital saw a huge increase in pressure on emergency admissions.

“We don’t fully understand why that happened - we had a severe winter and we know over time the elderly population is increasing which has put unprecedented pressure on internal beds.

“But this has a knock-on effect on our ability to run as perfectly as we want.

“If we do see pressure on emergency admissions we do everything we can to manage them but sometimes we have to deal with emergencies.

“If we do cancel, we try and plan and have discussions and prioritise patients.”

He said since the end of April the hospital had seen some easing of emergency admissions and a new intensive care facility, which opened in November, was also bringing the number of cancelled operations down.

Professor Powis added: “Theatre teams are working very hard and we’re increasing theatre capacity later in the year. They are consistently looking at more efficient ways of running theatres - how we get patients out and plan around cases and make it as slick as we can manage.”

More recently, it has been suggested by health campaigners that alleged problems rolling-out the new 111 non-emergency phone service has contributed to escalating visits to A&E.

But Professor Powis could not confirm if this has contributed to any rise in emergency admissions at the Royal Free Hospital.