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1,000 ops cancelled at 11th hour in NI hospitals last year

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 22/02/2016

Almost 1,000 operations were cancelled at the last minute last year in Northern Ireland as the health service stretched to breaking point
Almost 1,000 operations were cancelled at the last minute last year in Northern Ireland as the health service stretched to breaking point

Almost 1,000 operations were cancelled at the last minute last year in Northern Ireland as the health service stretched to breaking point.

One hospital alone axed more than 200 procedures during 2015, official figures reveal.

The majority were postponed around the start of the year after a chaotic winter caused a crisis in emergency departments.

In total, 921 operations were cancelled for non-clinical reasons at less than 48 hours notice.

The figures were released by Health Minister Simon Hamilton after an Assembly question from UUP MLA Samuel Gardiner.

Ulster Unionist health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said it was further evidence of a wider crisis for the health service.

“Every aspect from routine primary care appointments to life-saving diagnostic and treatment services is currently being affected,” she said.

A breakdown of the figures shows Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry cancelled 202 operations alone.

The Royal Group of Hospitals in Belfast axed 181 procedures, while Antrim postponed a further 161.

A total of 92 operations were cancelled at the Ulster Hospital, and a further 69 at Belfast City.

Ms Dobson referred to recent figures revealing just 70.9% of people were treated, discharged or admitted within four hours — well below the target of 95%. “Some of the hospitals with the worst waiting times such as the Royal, Antrim Area and Causeway Hospitals, with performances all in the low 60s, saw some of the largest proportion of cancelled operations,” she added.

“My heart goes out to every single person who had their operation cancelled at the last moment through no fault of their own.

“Even more imperative, however, is the fact that the longer a patient is forced to wait for treatment, the greater the risk there is of them coming to harm.”

Ms Dobson said Mr Hamilton failed to recognise the severity of the problems facing our hospitals.

“Instead of realising that 400,000 people on a waiting list is a frightening public safety issue, or that our A&Es are in such a crisis that operations in other areas of hospitals are having to be cancelled last minute just to accommodate the demand, he is more interested in needlessly quarrelling with essential staff such as our nurses,” she added.

The worst affected months were January and February. As A&E units were swamped, dozens of operations were cancelled.

Altnagelvin Hospital axed 187 procedures in those two months alone.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is regrettable that a small number of routine elective procedures have had to be postponed, but prioritisation must be given to the most urgent and sickest patients, that are cared for in a safe environment.

“The minister has allocated £8m of additional funding to the HSC this winter and the Health and Social Care Board and HSC Trusts have been working closely to ensure that our emergency care services are better prepared.

“While considerable progress has been made in better planning for periods of increased demand, we face considerable pressures on our emergency departments and the wider hospital system, especially during the winter months.

“With over 51,600 elective patients treated in 2014/15, the number of operations cancelled due to pressures in emergency departments each month was extremely small.

“A total of 42 elective admissions in December 2015 were postponed. Provisional figures for January 2016 indicate similarly low levels of postponements and represent a significant reduction when compared to the same period last year.”

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