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17,477 operations cancelled this winter, as Omicron ‘played roulette’ with NHS plans

12 May 2022

New figures reveal 17,477 operations were cancelled in the first three months of 2022, with high rates of Omicron disrupting planned hospital treatment.  The data shows 4,015 (23%) patients were not treated within 28 days of their cancellation, in a breach of the standard.

NHS England’s monthly Referral to Treatment (RTT) statistics also report the total number of people waiting for consultant-led NHS hospital treatment in March reached a record 6.36 million.

However, renewed efforts from staff to address long-waiters succeeded in reducing the number of patients waiting more than two years to 16,796 – down from 23,281 in February 2022. 

The most common long-waits seen were for Trauma and Orthopaedic treatment – such as hip and knee replacements (4,034), Ear Nose and Throat treatment (2,352), or General Surgery – such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations (2,251). 

Miss Fiona Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“Today’s figures show how Omicron played roulette with NHS plans this winter.  Cancellations are devastating for patients and distressing for surgeons.  The Omicron variant wreaked havoc, disrupting planned operations because patients were testing positive, or staff were off sick with the virus. Hospitals also had to wrestle with the long-running issue of staff vacancies, and struggled to discharge patients who were ready to leave, into social care.

“Winter is traditionally a difficult time for the NHS, when surgical beds are needed for seasonal viruses and emergencies. That’s why we have been calling for the creation of surgical hubs in every region, and a commitment to increase both the number of hospital beds and staff.

“With 110,000 staff vacancies, the NHS desperately needs a robust workforce plan.  It is also critical that we support our surgical trainees to progress.  Their commitment over the last two years must not be taken for granted. Supporting trainees is key to tackling the record waiting list we now face.”

Notes to editors

1.NHS performance statistics published today are available here:

2. NHS statistics on cancelled operations published today are available here:

3. 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.

4. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6052/6055 Email: Out-of-hours media enquiries: 0207 869 6056.

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