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Christmas cancelled for record number of patients

13 Feb 2020


The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) is calling for urgent action following publication today of new statistics showing a record number of operations were cancelled in the run-up to Christmas.

Quarterly statistics on cancellations published by NHS England for the last quarter of 2019 (Oct-Dec) show there were 23,503 cancellations in the run-up to Christmas 2019. This was an increase of 3,337 on the same period the previous year (there were 20,166 cancellations during this quarter in 2018).

In November 2019 RCS surveyed 421 surgeons working in the NHS, asking why operations were being cancelled on the day. Our survey found that 60% of surgeons had to cancel operations at the last minute (i.e. on the day of the patient’s operation). The top reason cited was a lack of beds.

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said:

“Christmas was cancelled for a record number of patients last year. A cocktail of pressures is hitting our hospitals: winter illnesses, staff shortages and a lack of beds. 

Cancelling on the day heaps additional distress on what is already a stressful situation for patients and their families. Their condition may deteriorate further while they wait for a new operation date. 

“This has to change. We are calling for a five year plan to fix waiting lists, including a permanent solution to the NHS pensions ‘tax-trap’ in the coming Budget. When the winter pressures eventually recede, there will be a window of opportunity to turn the rising tide of cancelled operations and growing waiting lists. For that to happen, we need swift action on pensions, and investment in nurses and beds.”


Notes to editors

  1. The full data is available here
  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
  3. For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.

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