Cancelled operations highest in country

MORE patients had their operations cancelled in this region than in any other part of the country at the end of last year, The Evening Star can reveal today.

MORE patients had their operations cancelled in this region than in any other part of the country at the end of last year, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Figures released by the Department of Health show that 1,107 operations were cancelled in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire in the last three months of 2004.

Ipswich Hospital was forced to cancel 108 operations, but the hospital with the most cancellations was the West Suffolk Hospital with 313.

As the issue of cancelled operations raged across the country after Tory leader Michael Howard raised the case of pensioner Margaret Dixon's postponed shoulder surgery, patient groups say they will be writing to health bosses to demand a full explanation.

A spokesman for the West Suffolk Hospital said: "This is an exceptional figure but it occurred during a time when the hospital suffered several outbreaks of the Noro-virus, or winter vomiting bug.

"This meant wards had to be closed over a long period and we were still seeing problems well in to January.

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"We have, however, managed to get everyone whose operation was cancelled back in within 28 days."

The spokesman compared the figures with the previous two-quarters of the year, when an average of 73 operations were cancelled and said the number is coming down again.

In February only 29 operations were cancelled.

He added: "Obviously this is still 29 too many but we are doing work to drive things down."

He said the recent opening of a short-stay ward in the hospital's day surgery unit has already begun to have an impact.

Unlike the West Suffolk Hospital, Ipswich did not suffer from outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug but spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said there are numerous other reasons why operations may be postponed.

She said: "If there is a major accident where several people need surgery this may cause theatre time to run out, or a surgeon may be called away to an emergency.

"There is also enormous pressure on beds because we are a really busy emergency hospital.

"If the number of people needing emergency treatment exceeds the number of beds we can't bring people in for planned, elective operations.

"Cancelling operations is a really stressful thing for everyone involved, whether it be staff, patients or their families and we do our absolute best to make sure it does not happen."

Ms Rowsell said the problem would be eased greatly when the Garrett Anderson centre is built, as many of the beds in it will be dedicated solely to planned or "elective" care.

A spokeswoman for the Ipswich Hospital patient and public involvement (PPI) forum said: "The figures for our hospital are worrying. 108 in the last quarter breaks down to more than six per day (excluding weekends).

"A cancelled operation can be very upsetting to the patients as well as family and support services who have to rearrange their schedules. It does not help staff who are already under pressure to keep down waiting lists.

"Our forum will be writing to management asking for an explanation of how these figures were reached."

A spokeswoman for the West Suffolk Hospital PPI forum said they were "not unduly concerned" because they knew the high figures could be put down to the vomiting bug. She added: "We are grateful it has been brought to our attention and we will be keeping a close eye on the figures."

Overall, around 50,000 operations are carried out within the region during each three-month period.

A spokesman for the Strategic Health Authority said the main reason for the high number of cancelled operations in this period was probably the winter vomiting bug but stressed the rising number of emergency admissions as an added factor.

He said: "The most important thing is making sure that we get people in for their operation as quickly as possible. They are still being treated within the recommended time and waiting lists are coming down."

Have you had an operation cancelled in the last few months? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

West Suffolk Hospital 313

Addenbrookes Hospital 303

Ipswich Hospital 108

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital 93

James Paget Hospital 66

Hinchingbrooke Hospital 63

Kings Lynn and Wisbech Hospitals 61

Papworth Hospitals 40

SHAs with the most cancelled operations

Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire 1,107

Greater Manchester 1,093

Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire 1,037

North East London 922

Surrey and Sussex 824

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