Exclusive: A third of operations cancelled at Birmingham’s QE hospital

Over a third of operations will be cancelled this week at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, as bed shortages leave services unable to cope with patient numbers.

The decision was taken due to high numbers of emergency admissions and delays in releasing elderly patients from hospital, sometimes referred to as “bed-blocking”.

Urgent operations and cancer procedures will be unaffected.

Over 1,300 operations were cancelled on the day at Queen Elizabeth Hospital between November 2015 and October last year.

The figures, obtained from a freedom of information request, do not include operations cancelled for clinical reasons.

The most common reason for cancellations was a shortage of beds. Other reasons included being displaced by an emergency patient, the availability of theatre time and staffing issues.

Cancelled Operations at Queen Elizabeth Hospital BirminghamNon-clinical reasons for operations being cancelled on the day at QE Hospital (November 2015 – October 2016) Source: FOI

An average of over 95 per cent of overnight beds were occupied in the hospital trust for each quarter during the period the figures cover. From April to June 2016 the average occupancy rate was 99.2 per cent.

Experts consider 85 per cent the maximum occupancy rate to avoid health risks and regular bed shortages. However, this figure has not been achieved at a national level since NHS England began publishing statistics in 2010.

A spokesperson for the hospital trust said cuts to staff numbers in adult social care and to capacity in private nursing and residential care were contributing to delays in discharging elderly patients.

So-called “bed-blocking” increases pressure on bed availability.

In 2015-16 the hospital saw a 4 per cent increase in patients on the previous year and continues to see a rise in admissions this year. Emergency admissions are currently up 8 per cent compared to last year.

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) is the largest single site hospital in the country, carrying out over 32,000 planned operations annually at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston.

Cancelled Operations and statistics for Queen Elizabeth Hospital BirminghamSource: FOI, QE Hospital, NHS England

A spokesperson for UHB said: “After carefully considering all the options we have taken the decision to cancel some non-urgent elective admissions in order to take as much pressure off bed capacity as possible.

“The decision to cancel will be made by clinicians on a case-by-case basis and patients will be called and rescheduled as soon as possible.

“We regret that any operation has to be cancelled and acknowledge the distress this can cause to both patients and their relatives.

“In response to additional pressures, we have expanded the capacity within our emergency department and hired more staff where possible.”