Hundreds of hospital patients in Lancashire have had their operations cancelled at the last minute in the last three months, new figures show.
The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley Hospital, cancelled 241 non-urgent operations, such as hip or knee surgeries, in the three months to December.
Although this was a decrease from the same period during the previous year, figures show the Trust was the fourth worst performer in the North West, and data showed patients face long waits for operations to be rescheduled.
Fifteen per cent of these procedures were not rescheduled within the mandatory 28-day waiting period - the worst record for the same three month period since 2002-03.
Surgeons warn that delays to surgery can cause harm to patients, and are calling for extra hospital beds to be provided across England.
A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons said: “Waiting for surgery is a very stressful and worrying time for patients and their families, and such long waits are simply unacceptable.
“The longer patients wait, the more risk there is that their conditions may deteriorate.”
A last-minute cancellation is defined as being either on the day that a patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived, or on the day of the operation itself.
The data covers cancellations that were for non-clinical reasons, such as bed or staff shortages.
Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We review theatre and ward capacity every day, and schedule operations according to clinical priority.
“Despite our best efforts to carry out all procedures as planned, when there is a significant increase the number of seriously ill patients who need emergency care, sometimes we have no option but to postpone some scheduled operations.
“We are sorry that planned operations are sometimes postponed, we know that this causes disruption, inconvenience and anxiety for those patients who are affected.
“We do everything we can to reschedule postponed procedures as swiftly as possible.
“Within our hospitals we have made a number of improvements in the past year, and have postponed fewer operations this winter than last.
“However, demand for both non urgent and emergency care and treatment is continuously increasing. The Our Health Our Care programme is working on this and other challenges that we face in central Lancashire.
“This includes transforming hospital services so that all patients receive high quality care and treatment without delay, and have a better experience in the future.”
There were 20,145 last minute cancellations across England in the three months to December, a slight fall on the same period last year.
More than 1,660 of these patients - eight per cent of the total - did not have their operations rescheduled within 28 days, the highest proportion for this three month period in 14 years.
According to the NHS Constitution, a trust must offer a new date within a maximum period of 28 days after a non-urgent operation has been cancelled.
If it is unable to do so, it must instead fund the treatment with another hospital and forfeit its payment from the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group that funds healthcare in the area.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) blamed pressure on A&E departments for the delays in rescheduling surgery.
It also warned that the drop in last-minute cancellations could be masking the fact that more operations are simply being cancelled in advance.
“Recent NHS data shows that January saw the worst A&E performance on record,” the spokeswoman continued.
“It is inevitable that this pressure on A&E will have a knock-on effect for bed capacity - and therefore on planned surgery - during the coming months.
“The RCS strongly believes that the NHS needs to commit to increasing hospital bed capacity.
“Without extra beds, we fear hospitals will struggle to properly tackle long waits for surgery.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “The number of cancelled routine operations has fallen, despite significant pressure on emergency services.
“Fewer than one per cent of operations are postponed on the day, and nurses, doctors and NHS leaders across the country are also rightly prioritising emergency patients over the winter period.”