‘NHS England cancelling operations at three times the rate in Scotland!’ or ‘With 10% of the population to care for, NHS Scotland cancels only 3.3% of NHS England operations cancelled in January’


Utterly desperate for something to attack NHS Scotland and by association, the SNP Government, BBC Scotland News used Freedom of Information requests to ask all health boards to provide cancelled operation figures for the three weeks, ending on 26th January. They said:

‘The NHS [Scotland] statistics on cancelled operations in January will not be released for another month so BBC Scotland. All 14 NHS boards replied, and the total number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons came to 1,244. It is not known how many elective operations were scheduled but it is thought to be broadly similar to the 27,879 figure for January 2017, when 704 were cancelled.’


First, let’s get an idea of the scale of the problem. Remembering that these were figures for only 3 weeks with, say, 21 000 planned operations (three-quarters of the above 27 879), 5.9% of all planned operations were cancelled for non-clinical reasons. Not good but not exactly a crisis.

Second, let’s get some comparison. There are, of course, no equivalent official data for NHS England. For some reason, BBC Salford didn’t do a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to embarrass the UK Government. I’ll come back to the whole business of BBC Scotland and FoI’s below. An FoI request wasn’t needed because the NHS England Medical Director had already told all of NHS England to cancel thousands of operations. Here’s how even the Torygraph reported it:

‘Every hospital in the country has been ordered to cancel all non-urgent surgery until at least February in an unprecedented step by NHS officials. The instructions on Tuesday night – which will see result in around 50,000 operations being axed – followed claims by senior doctors that patients were being treated in “third world” conditions, as hospital chief executives warned of the worst winter crisis for three decades. Hospitals are reporting growing chaos, with a spike in winter flu leaving frail patients facing 12-hour waits, and some units running out of corridor space. Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, on Tuesday ordered NHS trusts to stop taking all but the most urgent cases, closing outpatients clinics for weeks as well as cancelling around 50,000 planned operations.’


Now, remember that’s an estimate by Tory newspaper, the Mirror made it 55 000, and does not include unplanned cancellations which may have been made during the same period. However, giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s accept the 50 000 figure and suggest that for the three weeks covered by BBC Scotland News request that would be equivalent to around three-quarters or 37 500. What percentage of 37 500 is 1244? It’s 3.3%. Of course, there are no figures for the number of NHS England operations which were carried out, yet, but I think it’s safe to rely on population figures as a rough guide. So, with 10% (5.3m) of England’s (53m) population, Scotland had, at most, only 3.3% of the number of cancelled operations.

Third, why did BBC Scotland New do an FoI request and BBC Salford did not? Had they done so, the rage and indignation from the UK Government and the Tory press would have been something to witness. You can imagine a headline:

‘Closet pinko-lefties in the BBC conspire to attack British Government!’

BBC Salford hardly ever pursue FoI requests of the government of the day or of the public institutions it is responsible for, for the very obvious reason that they’re afraid to and, in particular, worried about maintaining the licence fee. BBC Scotland have no such fears and carry out increasing numbers of such requests. See this for details:

How BBC Scotland digs for dirt with Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government yet will not respond to any themselves


10 thoughts on “‘NHS England cancelling operations at three times the rate in Scotland!’ or ‘With 10% of the population to care for, NHS Scotland cancels only 3.3% of NHS England operations cancelled in January’

  1. Alasdair Macdonald February 3, 2018 / 5:25 pm

    Yet again, an excellent example of rapid response setting things in context.

    I remember the report being broadcast and thinking, “What is the purpose of this?”

    As you state, the cancelling of operations are distressing matters for the persons concerned, even when the procedures being planned are not potentially life-threatening. However, there are reasons why the operations are cancelled and, in almost all cases the reasons are valid in the circumstances.

    But, the BBC Scotland report simply stated a big number, with no report of what the reasons might have been and, if they had evidence of incompetence – which would be a story in the public interest. There was a datum about previous months, but that was all.

    Of course, given the context of a daily diet of ‘missed targets’ and vox pops, such as ‘broken ankle man’ and of the elderly, dementia-suffering Blackadder actor whose mourning daughter asserted, had been ‘killed by the NHS’ – NHS Scotland, of course – the report was inviting viewers to shake their heads and tut at how awful it has been.

    In similar vein, we get the drip-drip of Tory questions on the Chief Constable and the actions of the Justice Secretary, despite support for the action he had taken from the new head of the supervisory board, Professor Susan Deacon, and the head of the police officers’ union and responses in Parliament by the Secretary himself, plus a ringing endorsement by the First Minister. Recall, too, how the Michelle Thomson MP issue was selectively reported and spun out over a week.

    What this does is continue to validate your analyses of news reports during 2014 in the lead up to the referendum.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bugger (the Panda) February 3, 2018 / 6:12 pm

    BBC News Scotland and the dead tree Press are the political opposition to SNP Gov.

    Now centred on Scottish Office who write the stories for the churnalists.

    Wonder if they have a big cash float?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alasdair Macdonald February 3, 2018 / 6:18 pm

      Nice word :”churnalists”!

      Re cash float – recalling that one of Mr Mundell’s advisers was the CEO of Carillion, could the SO cash float be one of the reason’s for Carillion’s flop?

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Bugger (the Panda) February 3, 2018 / 7:19 pm

    Brown envelopes .. the high road to low journalistic standards.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ludo Thierry February 4, 2018 / 7:25 pm

    Hi John – Did the report mention the building works at Raigmore during this period? There was an unexpected entry of particularly fine building dust which was managing to find its way through the protective measures taken – and some was penetrating the Surgical Block – resulting in delayed ops for a period. Would the beeb Jockland usual suspects and the Project Fear parties prefer that professional clinical staff ignore best practice and continue with arranged procedures in potentially contaminated conditions? These delayed procedures would have happened at any point that the building work was being carried out – whether during Winter or high Summer. I didn’t hear the news item – but somehow I think I know the answer to my own question posed in line 1.


  5. Ludo Thierry February 4, 2018 / 11:23 pm

    Noticed this piece appearing on beeb Home News site – Mains leak in Manchester today resulting in delayed ops tomorrow (see the perfectly reasonable short report below): – Sometimes stuff just happens and our Services just have to try and work around it as best able – c’est la vie – but if ‘stuff’ happens in Scotland then somehow – as far as MSM is concerned – it can only mean one thing – ‘SNP BAAAAAAD’

    Manchester hospitals cancel operations due to mains leak
    • 1 hour ago
    Operations planned for Monday morning at hospitals in Manchester have been cancelled due to a mains leak affecting the water supply.
    Cancer and any urgent operations will still go ahead, the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said.
    Only patients with an “urgent clinical need” should go to hospital, it added.
    The hospitals affected are the Royal Infirmary, the Royal Eye Hospital, Saint Mary’s Hospital and Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
    The trust said the cancelled operations would be rescheduled as soon as possible.


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