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NHS cancels 14% of operations at last minute, research finds

Of 26,171 procedures due to take place during the last week of March this year, 3,724 (14%) of them were called off at or close to the time they were due to occur, according to the findings, which are based on the experience of patients at 90% of NHS hospitals across the UK.

The results prompted fresh warnings that the delays were leading to patients suffering pain and distress when they had to wait longer than expected for their surgery and that the NHS was seriously short of the resources it needed to function properly.

An acute lack of beds in high-dependency and intensive care units contributes to cancellations. Patients who will need to spend time in either type of facility after their surgery, because they will need extra medical support as they recover, are three times more likely to experience their operation being cancelled than other groups awaiting surgery, the study found.

While a third (499) of those 1,499 cancellations were caused by medical issues, the other two-thirds (1,000) happened for non-clinical reasons. Of those, 31% were due to a lack of beds, 12.7% to a shortage of operating theatre capacity, 2.3% to equipment problems and 2.2% due to staff being unavailable. Only 2.4% were for personal reasons and 0.5% because the patient did not attend.

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