Anger over cancelled operations

THE number of operations cancelled at the last minute in Suffolk and Essex increased by 25% in the first three months of 2005 compared to the previous year, new figures reveal.

THE number of operations cancelled at the last minute in Suffolk and Essex increased by 25% in the first three months of 2005 compared to the previous year, new figures reveal.

According to the Department of Health, a total of 992 surgeries at the region's hospitals were scrapped on the day of the operation for non-clinical reasons between January and March this year.

A further 119 patients in the region were not re-admitted to hospital within 28 days of their cancelled surgery – a key Government target for hospitals.

The figures for cancelled operations represent a 25% jump on the 2004 statistics for the same period, when 794 surgeries were called off on the day.

There was also an 86% increase in the number of patients not re-admitted within 28 days – there were just 64 such cases between January and March in 2004.

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for north Essex, said: "This is breathtaking. The Government denied this and yet my experience with my constituency cases was that there was definitely an increase in cancelled operations.

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"I am constantly trying to reinstate cancelled operations by writing letters to ministers and the health services. I will be writing to the minister again.

"We know what the problem is - these wretched targets, which mean that seriously ill people have their operations cancelled so less ill people can be treated within the target time limit."

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, added: "Unfortunately so many of these statistics concerning the health service in Suffolk are very disappointing.

"We have a situation where cancelled operations are going up and there are soaring deficits in the health service's finances.

"People are writing to me more and more about their anxiety at getting operations and I am having to intervene more than ever in the hospital authorities about delays in operations and treatment.

"It's not fair on the people that work so hard in the health service, nor on the people of Suffolk who are paying greater taxes than other places and not getting the health service they deserve."

The biggest increase in cancelled operations came at the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, which saw a leap from 128 in the same period in 2004 to 239 this year, along with one patient who was not readmitted within 28 days.

But a spokeswoman for the trust said: "We treat around 2,500 elective patients every month and the number of cancellations is relatively small.

"Every time we cancel a patient's surgery we recognise the huge anxiety this causes and patients are only cancelled when it is absolutely unavoidable."

The next biggest increase was recorded at the Essex Rivers Trust, which covers Colchester General and Essex County Hospitals.

The trust saw a jump of more than 100 cancelled operations – from 287 to 395 – while the numbers of patients not readmitted within 28 days rocketed from 52 to 110.

A spokesman said: "During the first three months of 2005, Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust saw an unexpectedly high increase in the numbers of emergency patients needing to be admitted.

"Following the increase, it was necessary to assess all planned routine operations on their clinical priority, leading to a higher number of those operations needing to be postponed.

"The Trust would like to apologise for the unavoidable delays in treatment and any inconvenience it may have caused to patients and their relatives and friends."

Meanwhile, the Mid-Essex Trust – which is responsible for the Broomfield and St John's Hospitals in Chelmsford – also recorded an increase.

Cancelled operations leapt from 112 to 170, but the number of patients not re-admitted within 28 days fell slightly from 11 to eight.

A spokesman said: "There has been an improvement in the overall number of cancelled operations for 2004/05 compared to 2003/04 and a marked improvement in the rebooking within 28 days over the same period.

"However, the increase in number of cancelled operations in the winter quarter as compared to the previous year was compounded by a significant increase in emergency admissions.

"There were also pressures of a ward closure and the impact of a winter vomiting virus which affected Broomfield, the peripheral hospitals and a number of nursing and residential homes."

But, despite the overall figures increasing, two of the region's hospital trusts actually recorded falls in their figures.

The most impressive drop was seen at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, where shelved surgeries fell from 183 to 118, and all patients were seen within 28 days of a cancellation.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: "We are delighted, but not complacent.

"The way we did it was we transferred some patients to the day surgery at out short stay unit - they were predominantly ear, nose and throat cases.

"We also ringfenced some wards for orthopedics and some surgical patients, and finally we improved on our discharges processes to ensure beds were available at the right times."

Finally, the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, near Lowestoft, also celebrated a fall in cancelled operations, from 84 last year to 70 in the first few months of 2005.

Nick Coveney, director of nursing and patient care at the hospital, said: "Operations are cancelled for a number of reasons.

"The patient may not be physically fit for a start, so it is not always the organisation.

"There may be issues about theatre capacity or the hospital could be overwhelmed with A&E patients and it may have to use surgical beds.

"We are working extremely hard to continue to improve and we are introducing new ways of working."

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