Operations cancelled as hospitals struggle with winter pressures

Almost 200 operations were cancelled at Watford General Hospital in January as the NHS struggles to cope with increasing winter pressures.

The hospital was forced to defer 193 non-urgent planned operations as part of the government’s guidelines on dealing with the crisis.

It comes after the news that a third of visitors to A&E at hospitals run by the West Hertfordshire NHS Trust waited more than four hours before being admitted or discharged.

And while the trust was recently moved out of ‘special measures’ by the Care Quality Commission, Watford General still ‘requires improvement’ while its urgent and emergency department is deemed ‘inadequate’.

Sally Tucker, chief operating officer at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, apologised to those who had seen their operations postponed and offered an explanation for the decision.

She said: “The trust is working to implement the recommendations set out in the National Emergency Pressure Panel guidance that was issued on 2 January which means that non-urgent planned surgery at Watford General Hospital is cancelled until the end of January. Planned surgery at St Albans is currently unaffected.

“We are very sorry if you are affected by this but it enables our senior clinical staff to prioritise the care of our acutely unwell emergency patients.

“They will do this by providing additional senior medical support on our inpatient wards, staffing extra urgent outpatient slots as an alternative to admission and supporting early discharge wherever possible. 

“Safe care is always our most important priority and our nursing and medical teams are working extremely hard to provide the very best care to our patients.

“Every patient affected is being telephoned in advance to advise them of the change and will be contacted with an alternative date.”

A letter signed by frontline doctors from 68 A&E departments across England and Wales spoke of “intolerable” levels of safety compromise over the winter and described patients “dying prematurely” in corridors before they are seen.

It acknowledged the efforts of staff, trusts and clinical commissioning groups but bemoaned the “severe and chronic” underfunding of the NHS.