National health service data show that since the cancelled operations guarantee was introduced in April 2002, the number of last minute (on the day of admission) cancellations has fallen by 20 per cent. to 0.8 per cent. of elective operations, its lowest level for five years.
The guarantee covers heart operations for children although separate data on them are not collected centrally. Cancellations are sometimes unavoidable, due to emergency admissions, for example, but can be reduced through good planning and waiting list management. Clinical priority has to be the main determinant of when patients are seen. It is recognised that any cancellation is likely to cause anxiety, but this can be reduced by good communication between hospitals and patients.
The Department has taken a number of steps to reduce the number of late cancellations. The rate of cancelled operations is one of the key pieces of information given to patients to help them choose a hospital. Additional funding of £25 million a year has been provided to increase and improve access to paediatric intensive care, a significant part of which relates to scheduled heart operations for children.
Other steps include increasing the number of critical care beds by 36 per cent. between January 2002 and January 2006, and increasing the use of day surgery and treatment centres which minimize the disruption of emergency admissions. The number of cancellations is also addressed by the Healthcare Commission in its annual health checks on providers.