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Stonehaven rail crash: Tragedy contributed to spike in cancelled operations for NHS Grampian

The Stonehaven rail crash and stormy weather led to NHS Grampian cancelling dozens of operations in the summer, it has emerged.

The reason for the decision not to go-ahead with the procedures emerged as NHS data revealed Grampian had the highest number of cancelled operations of any Scottish health board in August.

NHS Grampian explained most of the 41 operations which did not go ahead in August for non-clinical reasons were a result of the derailment, which claimed the lives of three people, plus storms on the same day.

Cameron Matthew, divisional general manager for surgery, said: “The vast majority of these were cancelled on August 12, the day or the Stonehaven train derailment as Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was put on alert for the possibility of receiving mass casualties as a result.

“On the same day, parts of Aberdeen Maternity Hospital (AMH) were affected by a storm and as a result planned surgeries there were also rescheduled.

“We would once again like to thank all of our staff for their efforts during the major incident response, storm damage response at AMH and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – their herculean efforts are truly appreciated.”

Mr Matthew apologised to patients who had their operations rescheduled as he reacted to concern expressed by local politicians at the number of cancelled operations in June, July and August.

NHS data published by its Information Services Division (ISD) revealed that NHS Grampian has had the most operations in the country cancelled for non-clinical reasons for three months in a row, from June to August.

North East Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles pointed out that there had been 19 cancelled operations in June and 31 in July, out of a Scottish total of 377.

Mr Rumbles blamed the cancellations on a “lack of resources” from the Scottish Government.

Mike Rumbles.

But Mr Matthew added:  “NHS Grampian is the third-largest board in the country and during the period of June to August this year NHS Grampian carried out 3,458 elective operations – the third highest of any board in the country.

“Looking at the data over the year so far NHS Grampian has cancelled the third-highest number of operations for non-clinical reasons.”

Tayside also experienced a rise from eight cancelled operations in July to 16 in August.

Meanwhile, the impact of coronavirus on the health service was illustrated by data revealing the number of operations being performed is 50% lower than last year.

At her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon warned it would take “some time” for the NHS to get back to normal.

The figures led to fears that as many as 100,000 operations may not have been carried out because of the virus.

Lib Dems raised concerns after figures for August showed a 50.7% reduction in operations compared with the same month in 2019 – with the total going from 28,036 to 13,831.

Covid a factor in fewer operations taking place

Labour health spokesman Monica Lennon claimed that SNP ministers “seem to have no plan to get our NHS back on track”.

Ms Sturgeon admitted: “During Covid other operations have been fewer in number, because of not just the capacity needed in the health service for Covid, but the risks to patients of potentially being exposed to Covid.”

But Ms Sturgeon added that while there had been a fall in the number of procedures, “those numbers are rising again”.

She said: “So the recovery work and the backlog work is already under way, though it will take some time to complete”.

Public Health Scotland figures showed that although the number of operations carried out in August was half what it was 12 months before, there had been a 23.2% increase in surgeries compared with July, when 11,224 procedures were carried out.

But the Scottish Liberal Democrats calculated that between March and August there were 59,757 operations carried out in Scotland, compared with 168,389 for the same period the previous year and 171,962 in March to August 2018.

‘People are suffering in different ways’

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Over 100,000 scheduled operations have been lost to the pandemic so far.”

He added: “The Scottish Government was right to pause non-essential treatments to ensure that the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed. But while we protect people from the virus, people are suffering in different ways and some people’s conditions are deteriorating.

“The operations backlog continues to grow, and that is really tough for the patients already living in pain for months and who are being prevented from getting on in life.”

He said the Scottish Government needed to produce a “robust NHS recovery plan which maximises capacity while also keeping patients and staff safe”.

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