A trust in the West Midlands cancelled elective operations for three weeks in March in a bid to meet its financial targets set by NHS Improvement.

Walsall Healthcare Trust, which was placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission in 2016, decided to cancel all non-urgent elective and non-cancer operations over a “requirement from NHSI to improve [its] financial position and reduce agency spend”.

Board papers published by Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group last month said the decision was also made to help improve emergency care flow, close extra capacity areas in the emergency department, and to allow for the surgical assessment ward to be moved.

The document said around 100 patients were affected by the measures, which the CCG claimed “has had little impact on emergency department performance”.

Commissioners added that the trust, which recorded a deficit of £21m at the end of 2016-17, had decreased its agency spending in March as a result of its decision.

However, board papers published by the trust on 4 June suggest its waiting time performance has suffered because of the measures.

They said: “Eighteen week trajectory was on target until the trust decision to halt all non-urgent activity in March to achieve financial target set by NHSI.”

The news follows recognition by national bodies that the 18 week waiting time target is unlikely to recover until 2019 and indcation that the target of 92 per cent of patients waiting no longer than 18 weeks will be relaxed.

Last week, NHS Clinical Commissioners chief executive Julie Wood warned that waiting times may need to be extended while CCGs try to contain spending.

An NHSI spokeswoman said: “It is our understanding that the trust cancelled a number of non-urgent operations in the last two weeks of March, due to staffing gaps and surgical bed pressures resulting from their new ITU development. All trusts have a responsibility to manage demand in a way that is safe, effective and in the best interest of patients.”

Updated: This story was corrected on 13 July, as HSJ was informed it had incorrectly stated that cancer operations had been cancelled. This was not correct - we apologise for the mistake.