Hospital needs more help to cut number of op cancellations, ministers told

Borders General Hospital.
Borders General Hospital.

More than half of operations cancelled at Borders General Hospital are being called off because of shortages of staff or other resources, ministers have been told.

Borders MSP John Lamont is urging Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison to take action to tackle the problem, and he called for extra investment in the Melrose hospital during a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

In response to a Parliamentary question, Ms Robison agreed that cancelled operations were an issue and assured him that help was being offered to address it.

Figures published this week by the National Health Service’s Information Services Division Scotland reveal that what it calls capacity or non-clinical reasons accounted for more than half of the 43 surgery cancellations recorded in the previous month.

Explanations covered by that description include shortage of staff, beds or equipment or previous operating theatre sessions overrunning.

Nationwide, those reasons only accounted for 17% of cancelled operations, well under half as many as in the Borders.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mr Lamont has repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to investigate whether the 328-bed hospital, opened in 1988, is underfunded or needs help with recruitment.

He said after the debate: “I know the staff at Borders General Hospital are doing all they can to avoid cancellations.

“Cancelled operations are a waste of resources and an inconvenience to patients. It is really concerning that in NHS Borders, half of all operations cancelled are being cancelled due to a lack of resources.

“I’ve repeatedly raised this issue with the Scottish Government, and it is now time they took some action.

“They need to rethink whether health boards with large rural populations like NHS Borders are being sufficiently resourced.

“Part of the problem is that NHS borders is struggling to recruit the necessary surgeons and nurses, so we also need to look closely at helping health boards and recruitment.

“Despite promising to pass on extra money handed to Scotland as a result of rises in health spending in England, the SNP is failing to support our hospitals and hard-working staff.”

Ms Robison told him: “Within NHS Borders, there is a higher rate of cancellations than we would like.

“A lot of work is under way to try to improve the level of cancellations by, for example, a weekly review of orthopaedic theatre lists six weeks in advance; planning for staffing, theatre time and equipment; booking on the basis of average time per consultant to carry out procedures for orthopaedics; reviewing admissions per ward, per area and per day and smoothing surgical flow; reviewing data for orthopaedics; and looking at implementing a process to review lists every week to develop a standard operating procedure.

“We are working very closely with NHS Borders to make those improvements.”

An NHS Borders spokesperson said: “The cancellations for capacity or non- clinical reasons is high.

“For example, in April, 22 procedures out of the total of 427, some 5.2%, were cancelled, an increase of 1.1% on March.

“The main contributing factor this month was bed availability, with 12 of the 22 procedures cancelled for this reason, and higher rates of delayed discharges.

“There can be many reasons for this, and we always prioritise urgent and cancer cases above scheduled operations.

“We are working to minimise this as much as we can, and we never cancel an operation lightly.

“Patients are, in the main, treated within the 12-week guarantee, despite the cancellation rates.”