Hospitals cancelled more than 20,000 operations


More than 20,000 operations were cancelled by 30 hospitals in the State last year, new figures show. One of the main reasons for these cancellations in a number of hospitals was a shortage of beds.

Other reasons for the cancellations, which averaged almost 400 a week, included equipment breaking down, outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug, hospital staff being away, nurse shortages, no anaesthetic cover available, theatre lists being overbooked and patients being clinically unfit for surgery.

There were also instances where patients had never been informed of their appointment in the first place. And in a significant number of instances patients themselves were responsible for the surgery not going ahead, as they either cancelled the operation or did not turn up.

The data comes from information released to The Irish Times by individual hospitals under the Freedom of Information Act.

It shows the largest number of procedures were cancelled in 2004 at Galway regional hospitals (University College Hospital Galway and Merlin Park Regional Hospital) where more than 4,000 operations were cancelled.

There were also more than 2,000 operations cancelled at Dublin's Tallaght hospital and close to 2,000 cancelled at St James's and Beaumont hospitals, also in Dublin.

More than 1,000 operations were cancelled at Cork University Hospital, the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore and Waterford Regional Hospital.

And around 800 operations were cancelled at the Mater hospital, Dublin, and at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The main reasons for these cancellations varied from hospital to hospital. At our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, where 819 operations were cancelled, some 765 of these were attributed to bed shortages. Likewise at Letterkenny General Hospital, bed shortages were blamed for 1,262 of the 1,352 operations which had to be cancelled last year.

And at St James's Hospital, Dublin, some 1,423 of 1,927 operations were cancelled last year because no beds were available.

But at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore, patients not turning up and patients cancelling their own operations, were cited as the reason it cancelled the majority of operations last year. It said patients were responsible in 887 cases, while no bed being available was to blame for 316 cancellations.

This was also an issue at the Galway regional hospitals where well over a third of the 4,308 operations cancelled last year were due to patients cancelling them.

At Cork University Hospital the main reason for operations being cancelled in 2004 was theatre lists being overbooked.

The figures present a conservative estimate of the numbers of operations cancelled in 2004 as not all hospitals could provide figures.

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association said it was interesting that reasons had been provided by many hospitals for their cancellations. "This means we can now identify areas that can be addressed by both management and patients," he said.

He added that when operations were cancelled at the last minute it could result in huge inconvenience for patients and their families.

"To find out at the last minute that your operation is going to be cancelled does not really reflect the world class service we would expect," he added.

Furthermore, he appealed to patients who could not attend for surgery to let their hospital know well in advance, so another patient could avail of the theatre time.

The director of the National Hospitals Office of the Health Service Executive, Pat McLoughlin, said the cancellation of any operation is unacceptable and the HSE has been discussing the problem with some of the busiest hospitals to see how to address it.