‘NHS England cancelling operations at three times the rate in Scotland!’ or ‘With 10% of the population to care for, NHS Scotland cancels only 3.3% of NHS England operations cancelled in January’

February 3, 2018

By John Robertson - Scotland

Utterly desperate for something to attack NHS Scotland and by association, the SNP Government, BBC Scotland News used Freedom of Information requests to ask all health boards to provide cancelled operation figures for the three weeks, ending on 26th January. They said:

‘The NHS [Scotland] statistics on cancelled operations in January will not be released for another month so BBC Scotland. All 14 NHS boards replied, and the total number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons came to 1,244. It is not known how many elective operations were scheduled but it is thought to be broadly similar to the 27,879 figure for January 2017, when 704 were cancelled.’


First, let’s get an idea of the scale of the problem. Remembering that these were figures for only 3 weeks with, say, 21 000 planned operations (three-quarters of the above 27 879), 5.9% of all planned operations were cancelled for non-clinical reasons. Not good but not exactly a crisis.

Second, let’s get some comparison. There are, of course, no equivalent official data for NHS England. For some reason, BBC Salford didn’t do a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to embarrass the UK Government. I’ll come back to the whole business of BBC Scotland and FoI’s below. An FoI request wasn’t needed because the NHS England Medical Director had already told all of NHS England to cancel thousands of operations. Here’s how even the Torygraph reported it:

‘Every hospital in the country 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. Hospitals are reporting growing chaos, with a spike in winter flu leaving frail patients facing 12-hour waits, and some units running out of corridor space. Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, on Tuesday ordered NHS trusts to stop taking all but the most urgent cases, closing outpatients clinics for weeks as well as cancelling around 50,000 planned operations.’


Now, remember that’s an estimate by Tory newspaper, the Mirror made it 55 000, and does not include unplanned cancellations which may have been made during the same period. However, giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s accept the 50 000 figure and suggest that for the three weeks covered by BBC Scotland News request that would be equivalent to around three-quarters or 37 500. What percentage of 37 500 is 1244? It’s 3.3%. Of course, there are no figures for the number of NHS England operations which were carried out, yet, but I think it’s safe to rely on population figures as a rough guide. So, with 10% (5.3m) of England’s (53m) population, Scotland had, at most, only 3.3% of the number of cancelled operations.

Third, why did BBC Scotland New do an FoI request and BBC Salford did not? Had they done so, the rage and indignation from the UK Government and the Tory press would have been something to witness. You can imagine a headline:

‘Closet pinko-lefties in the BBC conspire to attack British Government!’

BBC Salford hardly ever pursue FoI requests of the government of the day or of the public institutions it is responsible for, for the very obvious reason that they’re afraid to and, in particular, worried about maintaining the licence fee. BBC Scotland have no such fears and carry out increasing numbers of such requests. See this for details:

How BBC Scotland digs for dirt with Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government yet will not respond to any themselves

You can read more from  John Robertson at https://thoughtcontrolscotland.com/

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