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Number of planned operations in Scotland reaches highest total since pre-Covid

A total of 22,000 operations were scheduled to take place in March – the highest total since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)
A total of 22,000 operations were scheduled to take place in March – the highest total since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)

Scheduled operations in Scotland’s hospitals reached the highest number since the start of the Covid pandemic in March, new figures have showed.

There were 22,000 operations due to take place over the course of the month, Public Health Scotland data revealed –  although almost one in 10 (9.6%) of these was cancelled either on the day surgery was due to take place, or the day before.

Of the 2,109 operations that were cancelled, a total of 744  were put back because by the hospital because of clinical reasons, with 739 surgeries cancelled by the patient.

  • February 2020 - 27,645
  • March 2020 - 20,192
  • April 2020 - 3,406
  • March 2022 - 22,000

However, a total of 2.5% of planned surgeries (553 operations) had to be cancelled by the hospital for non-clinical or capacity reasons.

And NHS Highland cancelled more than a fifth (22.1%) of operations in March – the highest proportion of any health board in Scotland.

The was “due to limited bed capacity, following a high number of Covid-19 patients”, according to the Public Health Scotland report

It comes as the number of operations scheduled by the health service reached its highest level since February 2020, when there were 27,645 surgeries planned.

In March 2020 that fell to 20,192, and the coronavirus pandemic meant that by April that year, the number of scheduled operations dropped to just 3,406.

However, when the figures for March this year are compared with February 2020 – the month before the first Covid lockdown – there were a fifth (20.4%) fewer operations scheduled.

Public Health Scotland said: “The number of operations that services are able to schedule continues to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that planned operations were up by “over 15% on the previous month”, describing this as a  “significant positive step in the right direction” despite the presence of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant of Covid.

The spokesperson said: “We are working with NHS Boards to get those who have had treatments or procedures postponed due to Covid-19 the care they need as quickly as possible.

“Throughout the pandemic NHS Boards have ensured that urgent, maternity and vital cancer services continue as usual and have worked hard to ensure vital cancer care remains in place where clinically agreed.

“In March 2022, almost 20,000 planned operations took place across NHS Scotland, an increase of over 15% on the previous month. This is a significant positive step in the right direction, despite this being in the midst of the peak of the BA.2 subvariant wave.”

The Scottish Government has also published a national Clinical Prioritisation Framework for Supporting Elective Care, “which provides NHS Boards with key principles to support the prioritising of their elective care waiting lists during the Covid-19 pandemic”, the spokesperson said.

But Tories raised concerns about the number of operations being cancelled, with health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane stating this was “deeply concerning, especially given that the SNP have officially taken the NHS off an emergency footing”.

The Conservative MSP said: “We need to get back to more than pre-pandemic capacity to catch up and start to clear the enormous surgical backlog – but the SNP Government seem unable to devise a plan to get on top of this crisis and, as a result, waiting times are likely to grow further.”

He continued: “Sadly this is a symptom of an over-arching problem in Scotland’s NHS under SNP control.

“It’s unfair on medical staff, who are being let down by a failing system, and those poor patients who are psychologically geared up for essential surgery only to have it cancelled at the last minute.”