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Health, housing and adult social services National politics

The NHS is going to the dogs, again – or maybe not

Local Labour types were keen to jump on the dumb reporting of the latest numbers coming out of the NHS on cancelled elective operations. Cancelled operations are always unwelcome but the NHS cancels a tiny fraction of its operations.

The headline in the Guardian was “Hospitals cancelling largest number of operations for 10 years”. Even the Telegraph had “Surge in cancelled NHS operations”.

I wondered what the long term picture was. The NHS keep stats going back to 1996/7. The Q4 figures (January to March) are always worst because it is the worst bit of winter and the time in the financial year when all the money is running out.

Q4 cancelled elective operations

This chart give the Q4 numbers for the last 19 years. Yes, cancellations are the worst for 10 years at around 20K. But, they were around 20K in 8 out of 13 Labour years. The worst year in this series was 2000/01 when it almost hit 25,000.

The average Q4 figure in 13 years under Labour was just under 19,000. The average figure for the five Coalition years was fractionally more than 18,000. We are doing more operations under a harsher financial climate but actually cancelling fewer operations.

Call me cynical but what really stunned me about this chart was how there is peak followed by a fall every election year (ringed in yellow). Surely the NHS bureaucracy doesn’t contrive a mini NHS crisis every winter before an election does it?