25,000 operations cancelled twice or more in 2022 as backlog soars

  • Some patients have the same operation cancelled 13 times as backlog soars
  • Worst offending trusts have thousands of operations cancelled twice
  • Liberal Democrats demand urgent action to get the scandal of cancelled operations under control

The number of hospital operations cancelled twice or more surged to over 25,000 in 2022, an investigation by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

That is up 18% from the 21,477 operations cancelled twice or more the previous year.

The figures were obtained by the Liberal Democrats through Freedom of Information requests, with data provided by 78 of the 124 hospital trusts in England.

Some of the worst hit trusts include Mid and South Essex, which cancelled over 4,000 operations twice or more in 2022, and Portsmouth with over 2,500. In total, a staggering 112,000 operations have been cancelled twice or more in the past five years.

The figures also reveal that some patients have seen the same operation cancelled up to 13 times over the past five years. Portsmouth is also at the top of the cancellation list for individual cases with one patient suffering the indignity of having their operation cancelled 13 times in 2019. This was followed by Mid and South Essex with one patient whose operation was cancelled 11 times, and North Midlands with one patient having 10 cancellations for a single operation. In total, 20 trusts had one individual patient who had faced five or more cancellations since 2018.

The Liberal Democrats said the “harrowing statistics” show the need for an urgent rescue plan to reduce the number of cancelled operations and the damage done to people’s lives and the economy by being stuck on NHS waiting lists. This would include giving people the option to have surgeries in hospitals further away, providing an advice centre for patients ahead of their operation, and increasing surge pay for NHS staff for surgeries over weekends.

The latest figures show the number of people economically inactive because of long-term sickness has risen to over 2.5 million people, an increase of over 400,000 since 2019. A previous survey by the ONS suggested around 140,000 people have gone on long-term sick leave as a result of waiting for NHS treatment.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

At the heart of each of these harrowing statistics is someone waiting in pain for the treatment they need after having their operation cancelled yet again.

Rishi Sunak promised to bring NHS waiting lists down, instead people are being let down after years of wilful neglect of our local health services under the Conservatives.

It is a scandal that patients are being so catastrophically let down, with some seeing their operation cancelled ten times or more.

This is not only damaging people’s lives, it is damaging our economy as people are left in limbo unable to return to work. The Liberal Democrats are clear that you cannot fix the economy without fixing the crisis in the NHS and care. We want to see urgent action to reduce the number of cancelled operations, cut NHS waiting lists and help people recover and live healthy, productive lives again.

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This entry was posted in News and Press releases.


  • The root issue with the NHS is the need for more resources. So the Liberal Democrats complaining about cancelled operations at the same time as it abandons plans to increase income tax rates by a 1p, lacks credibility.

  • More detail needed.

    My cousin had an operation cancelled several times over the last two years. Once because the implant manufacturer announced a vastly upgraded product, another time because they had to deal with an implant recall, recently because the BSL interpreter did a no show.

    Additonally, I have had to decline offered dates because they were highly inconvenient. I suspect these aren’t included in the statistics.

    We need to better understand what is going on behind the headline figures, for example do they include cancellations arising from operating theatres being closed due to the discovery of RAAC. We also need to understand the operating theatre and staff utiiisation – are slots going to waste and staff being paid to wait?

    So to me the headline isn’t something to start jumping up and down about but something that flags the need for an informed investigation.

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