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Seriously ill patients having urgent ops put off twice amid cancellations record

The number of urgent operations being cancelled is the highest on record, with repeat cancellations for some seriously ill patients.

Data from NHS England shows 4,093 urgent operations were cancelled last year as the health service came under intense pressure - a 27% rise from 3,216 in 2014.

Some 145 urgent operations were cancelled twice or more in 2016 - also the highest on record.

In 2011, just 65 operations were cancelled twice or more but the figure has been rising year on year.

An urgent operation is defined as one that is life-saving, which is needed to save a limb or organ, or where a patient is at risk of dying if their condition is allowed to deteriorate.

It can include cancer patients and those needing heart surgery.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "It's not right that such a wide postcode lottery is opening up for non-urgent operations. Theresa May's policy of underfunding the NHS is pushing services to the brink, with worse and more widespread pressures than in previous years.

"These treatments have a huge impact on people's quality of life and the increasing waiting times are frustrating and demoralising for patients.

"Urgent action is required."

A Number 10 spokesman said of the figures : "We have been very clear we recognise that there are significant pressures on the NHS with an ageing and growing population.

"But we have also been very clear that the Government is committed to securing high-quality healthcare for everyone. That's why we have given the NHS the extra funding that it asked for, an additional £10 billion by 2020 with a frontloading of £4 billion of that in the last financial year."

NHS England chief Simon Stevens has said it would be "stretching it" to say the NHS was given all the money it asked for.

The figures come as the Royal College of Surgeons hit out at cost-cutting plans to ration who can receive hip and knee replacements.

Patients would need to have such severe levels of pain that they cannot sleep or carry out daily tasks.

Redditch and Bromsgrove, South Worcestershire, and Wyre Forest clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have proposed slashing the number of people who qualify for hip replacements by 12% and a 19% cut for knee replacements.

This would include only treating "severe to the upper end of moderate" cases, and forcing obese people to lose weight before an operation.

The CCGs hope to prevent about 350 operations being needed and to save £2 million a year.

The Royal College of Surgeons has said there is "no clinical justification" for the plans.

The move is the latest in a round of cost-cutting by CCGs, with some slashing access to treatments, expensive drugs and IVF.

Other CCGs have the same restrictions on hip and knee operations, saying pain should be so bad that patients cannot sleep or carry out daily tasks. These include Harrogate and Rural District CCG and Shropshire CCG.

Asked for the Prime Minister's message to those in pain waiting for an operation, the Downing Street spokesman said: "Treatment decisions and operational decisions are always and should always be made by doctors based on an individual's clinical needs.

"Where surgery is required, people should be able to access that."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "It's not uncommon for there to be pressures across the NHS at this time of year, especially as we're facing very high levels of demand.

"The NHS takes steps each winter to maximise bed availability, and hospitals are rightly prioritising emergency and urgent patients at every opportunity.

"These statistics show that in December, occupancy rates for critical care beds improved and fewer urgent operations were cancelled than the previous month."

The urgent operations that were cancelled were all for non-clinical reasons.

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