Operations cancelled far less commonly in Scotland than in non-Scottish parts of UK

‘UK’ research misleads on operation cancellations in Scotland



In the Independent today, the headline:

‘One in seven major operations in UK cancelled on day of surgery, data shows’

suggested the usual Anglo-centric journalism conflating figures for England with the UK. One in seven is 14.3%. However, the article was reporting on an apparently UK-wide snapshot of cancellations in one-week in the Spring 2018 period:

‘Their study is published in the wake of a record winter crisis where in the first three months of 2018, 25,475 operations were cancelled on the day they were scheduled to take place in England alone (!) – the highest since records began. This is despite hospitals being told [in England] to pre-emptively cancel thousands of non-urgent operations to minimise same-day cancellations and focus resources on urgent cases.  For their research the RCA and UCL compiled data from an unparalleled 93 per cent of hospitals in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and built a seven-day snap shot of surgeries that took place between 21 and 27 March.’


No breakdown of the figures for England, N Ireland, Scotland and Wales is offered. I’ve found accessing such increasingly difficult with researchers telling me there were no significant differences between the four areas but not being willing to release them. Hmmm.

Operations cancellations in Scotland

Direct comparisons cannot be made but, as you can see in the above chart, cancellations for non-clinical capacity reasons, in Spring 2018, had peaked at just over 4% and were beginning to fall to around 1.5%.

In the absence of a breakdown, I am limited in what can be concluded but, given the comparatively very low figures for Scotland, based on actual data recorded by the hospitals and the relatively small proportion of UK hospitals located in the UK as a whole (8%), it seems most unlikely that this research has much relevance for us.


Perhaps one of the most telling facts is that Scottish hospitals were not instructed to pre-emptively cancel thousands of non-urgent operations in this period. See:

NHS Scotland operation cancellations fall in November and there are no plans for increased cancellations in January but in NHS England…..

However, elderly Telegraph readers in Scotland [lots going by my local newsagent] saw this:

‘NHS hospitals ordered to cancel all routine operations in January as flu spike and bed shortages lead to A&E crisis

Every hospital in the country (sic)* 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.’

  • Another use of ‘sic’ in a medical context!

5 thoughts on “Operations cancelled far less commonly in Scotland than in non-Scottish parts of UK

  1. Alasdair Macdonald September 7, 2018 / 9:10 am

    The Independent article is so typical of so much of journalism. They simply want to present things as BAD, to give them grounds to criticise some person, group, body, etc that they object to.

    Operations get cancelled for a variety of reasons as your graph of Scottish data shows. For the particular period which the Independent is quoting, there was a severe epidemic which was putting pressure on A&Es and, that, in turn was putting pressure on operating theatre capacities.

    Of course taking a measured and informative approach is not for the people who run these media.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. bigjon999 September 7, 2018 / 10:06 am

    Similar issue with article in Guardian today about hedgehogs – article refers to Britain but map accompanying article covers England and Wales – just sloppy inaccurate journalism or else deliberately obscuring Scotland’s increasingly common improvements over UK/GB/England’s issues.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ludo Thierry September 7, 2018 / 11:52 am

    We all know that IPSO isn’t fit for purpose but it does give us some figures we just wouldn’t get into the public domain otherwise – so was interested to see from HoldTheFrontPage the new data released today. Note the high rate of complaints lodged against the Daily Record (and how next to none of the complaints get anywhere). Note also the significant growth in the volume of total complaints in a single year – Everyday ordinary (extraordinary) decent people across Scotland and the non-Scottish parts of the UK are trying – trying very hard – to make changes in our appalling media processes – but it is mighty hard and thankless work. Huge THANKS to John for giving up so much of his time and energy to undertaking this Herculean task:

    The press watchdog has revealed the most complained about regional newspapers last year – although only one of the complaints resulted in further action against the titles.

    The Independent Press Standards Organisation has said in its annual report that it received 140 complaints about the Glasgow-based Daily Record, 37 against the Bristol Post, and 34 apiece against Hull Daily Mail and Manchester Evening News.

    Of the complaints against the Record, one was upheld, four were not upheld following further investigation, while six were resolved through mediation.

    IPSO received more than 20,000 complaints in total last year, up from nearly 15,000 in 2016.

    The vast majority were against national newspapers and websites, with 4,847 complaints against The Sun, 4,176 against the Daily Mail, and 3,535 against Mail Online.

    Liked by 1 person

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