NHS staff shortages led to 30,000 cancelled operations in England last year, figures show

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The number of cancelled NHS operations has doubled since 2018/19

NHS staff shortages led to the cancellation of some 30,000 operations in England last year, new figures show.

Data requested by Labour under freedom of information laws showed that 158,000 operations were cancelled in total for non-clinical reasons by NHS trusts. Of those, an estimated 10,000 were urgent operations, 2,500 were operations for cancer patients and 8,000 were operations on children.

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Labour’s analysis found 13,000 operations were cancelled because of a shortage of beds, 5,700 because of equipment failure, 12,600 due to administrative errors, 15,500 as theatre lists overran, 9,500 because an emergency case took priority and 250 due to adverse weather.

The party said the number of cancelled operations has doubled since 2018/19, when 79,000 were cancelled. The number of operations cancelled due to staff shortages tripled in that period, jumping from 10,900 to 30,000, while the number cancelled due to faulty equipment increased from 4,800 to 5,700.

The number of cancelled NHS operations has doubled since 2018/19 (Photo: Getty Images)The number of cancelled NHS operations has doubled since 2018/19 (Photo: Getty Images)
The number of cancelled NHS operations has doubled since 2018/19 (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Patients are forced to wait longer for vital operations because the Conservatives have failed to train enough staff over the past 12 years.

“Having operations cancelled causes huge disruption to patients, and prevents them from being able to get on with their lives. Labour will tackle this problem at its root. We will train a new generation of doctors and nurses so patients get the treatment they need, when they need it.

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“We will abolish non-doms to pay for it because patients need treatment more than the wealthiest need a tax break, and if you live and work in Britain you should pay your taxes here.”

Staff vacancies at record high

NHS Digital data shows that staff vacancies in the NHS are at a record high. The vacancy rate across the NHS in England – the number of vacancies as a proportion of planned staffing levels – stood at 9.7% at the end of September and more than 133,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts are unfilled. Meanwhile, an average of 54,581 NHS staff were off sick in England in the seven days to 4 December.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “These worrying findings show just how much pressure trusts are under due to chronic staff shortages. We currently have a staggering 133,000 vacancies in the NHS, which impacts patients’ access to care.

“The failure of multiple governments over many years to deliver an effective NHS workforce plan is at the root of this growing problem. Now, looming strike action and rapidly rising demand threaten to exacerbate the situation this winter.”

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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman described the figures as misleading, adding: “Thousands of elective appointments and procedures had to be cancelled during the pandemic to protect the NHS, and since then we’ve been focused on delivering the biggest catch-up programme in health history – virtually eliminating the longest two-year waits for treatment.”

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