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A&E Crisis: Cancelled operations putting patient safety at risk

By Courteney Jackson, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

Hospitals across the United Kingdom have been forced to cancel at least 13,000 routine operations over the last two months due to the ongoing record demand for NHS care. 

On top of the casualty crisis and collapse in social care, poor patient flow is causing difficulty in discharging patients, leaving little capacity for new routine procedure patients at many hospitals.

Cancelled operations

According to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, 6,726 elective care operations were cancelled in November 2021, on top of the 6,335 previously cancelled in October 2021. It is therefore estimated that more than 220 patients a day are having vital operations cancelled due to the overwhelming pressures on A&E.

Impact on patients

Thousands of patients who have already prepared themselves for planned surgery have been left waiting even longer for their treatment. Whilst NHS staff continue to work hard, there are simply not enough hospital beds to meet the demands in the wake of the pandemic. This is in turn putting patient safety at risk, with patients being left to wait in pain and discomfort.

NHS waiting lists for routine care are already at a record 5.83 million and 1 in 13 people attending A&E in the past two months were left waiting for 12 hours or longer. Just 62 per cent of patients are being seen within the four-hour target, when this figure should be 95 per cent.

The issues appears to stem from a combination of record demand for NHS care and the difficulties hospitals are facing in discharging patients who are medically fit to leave. A&E doctors are calling this “poor patient flow” and “exit block”.

Moving forwards

The true number of cancelled operations is likely to be much higher, as the data used for the figures only represents around a third of the total number of hospitals across the United Kingdom. These figures are most likely underestimating the scale of the problem.

Nevertheless, the latest figures serve as an unnerving and worrying projection for the months ahead, with warnings that A&E units across the NHS are verging on crisis. A&E services require the additional funding and support to assist with clearing the “exit block” and assisting good patient flow, which is required urgently to secure patient safety.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families affected by care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section

More than 220 patients a day are having vital operations cancelled because of the crisis in overwhelmed A&E units.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine found that 6,726 elective care operations were cancelled last month, on top of 6,335 in October.

It said ‘unsustainable’ pressures linked to the casualty crisis and the collapse in social care was ‘impacting and derailing’ routine care, making it impossible to tackle the Covid backlog.”