• Northampton General Hospital takes “drastic” step of cancelling elective activity for four months 
  • Apologises to patients who have had their operations cancelled

An acute trust has taken the “drastic” step of halting some planned surgery activity for a period of four months, as it bids to free up capacity for emergency care.

Northampton General Hospital Trust said it has cancelled “some” non-urgent inpatient surgery procedures effective immediately until the end of March.

The trust said it was currently unable to state the number of patients affected, as it was still working with alternative providers to see if patients can be treated elsewhere.

However, it said the move will affect all specialties. Over a four-month period, the trust typically reports around 15,600 completed elective admissions.

A trust spokesman said: “As we move into our busiest period we are working to manage the demand that we will have for our services this winter.

“We are working to prepare for these pressures in a more structured way to help us to avoid cancelling surgery at short notice. We know previously that this has caused a lot of frustration for patients, some of whom have been cancelled multiple times, which we believe is an unacceptable way to treat our patients.

“We have therefore reluctantly taken the decision, with input from our divisional management team and clinical leaders, to cease some routine non-urgent surgery that requires an inpatient bed at Northampton General Hospital.”

He stressed the trust will continue to provide emergency surgery and cancer surgery, along with “as many day case procedures as we are able to”.

Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told HSJ: “It is very worrying to hear that an NHS hospital has taken the drastic step of cancelling, for the next four months, planned surgery requiring an overnight stay.

“Northampton is not the only hospital struggling. Surgeons across the country have raised concerns that waiting times for planned operations continue to grow.

“In September 2019, there were 4.42 million patients on the NHS waiting list — the highest ever. The answer to this is not to cancel surgery.

“We have called on all the party leaders to protect patients’ right to a maximum wait of 18 weeks for planned care in the next Parliament.”

The trust’s most recent performance against the four-hour emergency target was 78 per cent.

The move comes amid moves from regulators to encourage trusts to open more beds over winter, or to outsource elective operations to free up capacity.