More than 13,000 planned operations have been cancelled in the NHS in the last two months, data suggests.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the figures, collected by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), are “alarming” and mean thousands of patients being left in limbo and in pain.
According to the figures, which have been collected by the RCEM for the first time, some 6,726 elective care operations were cancelled in November, while in October the figure was 6,335.
The exact reasons for the operations being cancelled are unclear, though the majority were cancelled by the NHS.
Colleagues working in emergency medicine have been facing ‘winter pressures’ since the summerProfessor Neil Mortensen, Royal College of Surgeons
The NHS itself paused recording the number of cancelled operations due to the pandemic and has just resumed counting.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “It is very alarming that more than 13,000 planned operations were cancelled in the past two months alone.
“This means thousands of patients who had prepared themselves for vital hip, knee and other types of planned surgery were left waiting in limbo for their treatment.
“NHS staff are working flat out, but, as this report shows, there simply are not enough hospital beds to meet the huge demands we are seeing in the wake of the pandemic.
“Colleagues working in emergency medicine have been facing ‘winter pressures’ since the summer.
“Their concerns to avoid ‘corridor care’ are well-founded.
The NHS is staffed by world-leading doctors and nurses - they cannot care for patients properly with a bed base the size of a postage stampProfessor Neil Mortensen, Royal College of Surgeons
“An urgent effort is now required to get those patients who are fit to be discharged from hospital back into the community, freeing up beds for patients who need an operation.”
Prof Mortensen said the College agrees with the RCEM that the Government must increase the number of hospital beds.
“The NHS is staffed by world-leading doctors and nurses – they cannot care for patients properly with a bed base the size of a postage stamp,” he added.
An NHS spokesman said: “There is no doubt that pressure on the NHS is incredibly high, with October seeing the highest ever number of 999 calls answered for a single month, as well as being the busiest for major A&Es for that time of the year.
“Thanks to the hard work of staff, elective treatment is continuing, with patients prioritised based on their need and latest stats showing 1.3m patients started elective treatment in September.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “It is not good enough for thousands of people in need of operations to have them cancelled, forcing them to wait longer, often in pain and discomfort.
“Waiting lists are already at record levels, yet the Government has no plan to address the chronic shortages in GPs, doctors, nurses and social care staff.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to taking action to ensure people get the treatment they need, which is why we are investing an extra £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to cut waiting times, and deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations.
“We’re making sure our record investment has a lasting impact and helps address health disparities by deploying more efficient, innovative ways of working, including opening new surgical hubs and at least 100 Community Diagnostic Centres over the next three years to make getting checked quicker and more convenient.”