Cancelled operations

Cancelled operations may be an indicator of capacity, as operations could be cancelled because of insufficient supply of facilities, equipment and/or appropriate personnel.

How many elective operations have been cancelled and how has this changed?

The number of cancelled elective operations fluctuates over time from quarter to quarter, but there is generally a peak in Q4 of each year. This is likely due to hospitals dealing with winter pressures.

However, there is an increasing trend in the number of cancelled elective operations. There were 6,753 more cancelled elective operations in Q4 2016/17 (21,219) than Q4 1994/95 (14,466) - a 47% increase.

Updated July 2017.

How has the proportion of cancelled operations changed?

In Q4 2016/17 there were 21,219 elective operations cancelled from a total of over 2 million elective operations performed, accounting for 1.8% of these admissions. The percentage of elective operations cancelled has decreased over time and ranges from a maximum of 1.8% to a minimum of 0.7%. There is also a slight seasonal variation in the proportion of elective operations cancelled with the proportion often marginally higher in Q4.

Updated July 2017.

How has the number of patients not treated 28 days after a cancelled operation changed?

As of April 2003, the NHS constitution pledged that if a hospital cancels your operation at the last minute for non-clinical reasons, they should offer you a new date for your operation. This date should be within 28 days of the date your operation was originally booked for.

Over the period covered by the data the proportion of patients whose elective operations were cancelled and not treated within 28 days has decreased. However, between 1994/95 and 2001/02 the proportion increased by around ten percentage points. After this period the proportion began to fall, reaching 7.9% in Q4 2016/17.

Updated July 2017.

What is the regional variation of cancelled elective operations?

In 2014/2015 there was about a three-fold variation in the rate of cancelled elective operations between area teams. The best performer was the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area team with a rate of 4.5 elective operations cancelled per 1,000 elective admissions, and the worst was the Devon, Cornwall and Isles Of Scilly area team rate of 13.8. This compares to a national rate of 8.6 elective operations cancelled per 1,000 elective admissions.

'Elective' admissions have been calculated as the sum of the number of 'Planned Admissions' and 'Waiting List Admissions' in the published data from NHS Digital.

Updated January 2017.

Do people report having their admission date changed?

A large proportion of inpatients report that they didn't have their admission date changed, and this has remained between 79 and 80% of respondents since 2005. The proportion responding that they did have their admission date altered has also changed very little. In 2015, 17% reported that they had their appointment date changed once and 4% reported it had changed two or three times. In any year, 0.3% reported their appointment time had changed four times or more.

It is difficult to compare these results directly to the NHS England cancelled operations data presented above. Despite seeing positive changes in the proportion of cancelled operations and those not treated within 28 days of a cancelled operation, we don't see any reflection of this in the Adult Inpatient Survey data, with patients reporting a similar experience in 2015 as 2005.

Updated August 2016.

Do outpatients report having their appointment date changed?

For outpatients, there was an increase in the proportion of patients reporting that their appointment date had been changed from 20% in 2004 to 23% in 2011. It appears that repeat appointments contributed more heavily to this overall change, with 26% of those attending a repeat appointment reporting a change in date compared to just 14% of those attending a first appointment. Again, we see little connection to experiences reported in the Outpatient Survey reflecting the changes in cancelled operations data above.

The outpatient survey ceased in 2011.

About this data

Cancelled elective operations are defined as those which have been cancelled by the trust for non-clinical reasons on the day of admission or later. Elective admissions are calculated from the Monthly Activity Return (MAR) and are correct at time of publication of the raw data.

Further guidance can be found on the NHS England, Cancelled Elective Operations website.


Cancelled operations may also be due to patients being unfit for planned surgery if they are not being correctly assessed beforehand. useful to subdivide cancellations into clinical reasons( patient unfit/operation not needed) and non-clinical( no bed/equipment etc)

Anna Lipp (not verified)
(changed )

Hello Anna.

Thank you for your comment and your interest in the QualityWatch Programme.

The published statistics we use to create the information published here defines a cancelled elective operation as one which has been cancelled by the trust for non-clinical reasons on the day of admission or later.

None of the data displayed will be as a result of a cancelled operation because of a clinical reason.

More information like this to help interpret indictors can be accessed by clicking on the "About this data" box at the bottom of the indicator when available.

Thank you

QualityWatch Team (not verified)
(changed )

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