Thousands of cancelled NHS operations are putting a "drain" on resources as figures reveal a massive rise in procedures not happening at the last minute.
Information from NHS England shows that as many as 1,924 planned surgical procedures were cancelled in the region in 2013/14.
Some hospital trusts had more than a 100% year-on-year increase in the number of operations that had to be rescheduled, with a shortage of beds and increase in activity reasons behind the problem.
Health unions have raised fears that the high number of cancellations is draining financial NHS resources as an operation can cost anything between an average of £730 for a cataract operation to as much as £5,800 for a hip replacement.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing Northern Region, said: “It’s very worrying to see many cancelled operations across the region. While it isn’t clear whether all cancellations have been made by the NHS, it will clearly cause patients and their relative’s unnecessary anxiety as they wait for the treatment they need.
“Hospitals are simply over-stretched as they face ever increasing demand from an ageing population combined with a shortage of qualified staff. RCN research has found that trusts are struggling to fill up to 20,000 vacant nursing posts.
“We are now experiencing a nursing workforce crisis, and attacks on the pay and conditions of staff are making it harder for trusts to retain experienced nursing staff, let alone recruit more.
“The number of cancellations is a further drain on valuable NHS resources. The NHS needs a long-term financial plan which takes into account the continued increase in patient demand and the need for sustained investment.”
Number of vacant nursing posts
The hospital trusts which cancelled the most operations were Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which cancelled 587, County Durham and Darlington, which put off 571 operations, and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust which cancelled 262.
Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust had a 131% increase in the number of cancelled operations than the previous 12 months, while County Durham and Darlington had a 50% rise.
A spokesperson for Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “The rise in elective operation cancellation rates at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead is due to both an increased level of activity and also a pressure on our beds during certain times of year like winter.
“We try our hardest to ensure that elective operations are not cancelled with short notice as we understand how frustrating this can be for our patients. However during busy periods like winter, we have less beds available for non-emergency situations such as elective operations.
“We hope that with the opening of our new emergency care centre this winter, some of this pressure will be lessened.”
If an operation is cancelled there is an NHS target to reschedule within 28 days.
Chiefs at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the trust did “its very utmost to avoid deferral or cancellation but were not prepared to countenance anything other than safe and best in class clinical care and outcomes”.
Sir Leonard Fenwick, chief executive of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “There is a need to compare like with like to place performance in a more meaningful and realistic context hence comparison did need to be drawn with the nine leading regional centres outside of Greater London which returned an average of 953 cases in contrast to the 587 cases attributable to the Newcastle Hospitals – a rate of 0.51% compared with a national average of 0.8%”.
NHS England insisted that the level of cancellations remained low, in the context of the millions of operations performed in the NHS each year.
A spokesperson for NHS England in Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear said: “NHS England believes all cancellations should be avoided wherever possible as we recognise having an operation cancelled can cause huge distress for patients and their families.
“NHS England is committed to promoting and upholding the values, rights and pledges enshrined within the NHS Constitution and to putting patients and the public at the heart of everything we do.”