Beast from East blamed for operations cancelled by NHS Borders

NHS Borders continues to cancel more operations than any other health board in Scotland, latest figures reveal.

The Borders General Hospital at Melrose.
The Borders General Hospital at Melrose.

More than a fifth of the surgery it had planned for March was abandoned, almost half of those 101 cancellations being due to there being no beds available.

NHS Borders blames the snowstorms dubbed the Beast from the East for that disruption, but opposition politicians are pointing the finger of blame closer to home, towards the Scottish Government instead.

“This winter has been cited as one of the worst amongst health and social care colleagues, with winter pressures continuing into March,” said Claire Pearce, director of nursing, midwifery and acute services at NHS Borders.

“The Beast from the East brought adverse weather and heavy snowfall, which directly accounted for a quarter of planned procedures being postponed over a four-day period, 24 over Thursday and Friday, March 1 and 2, and four over Monday Tuesday, march 5 and 6.

“Our staff worked tirelessly against these challenges and undertook surgery on 357 people, which was a 15% increase from the previous month.

“We had planned to see 458 people. However we had to postpone 101 of these scheduled procedures.

“In 43 cases, procedures were postponed due to bed availability, because there were a number of very sick emergency patients requiring care in the Borders General Hospital.

“Sixteen patients cancelled their procedures, and in seven instances we had to postpone procedures due to clinical reasons.

“Patients are at the very heart of what we do, and patient safety remains our number one priority.

“This is why we only go ahead with scheduled operations when it is safe to do so.

“We continue to work very hard to drive down cancellation rates and minimise disruption for patients and their families.”

That is an explanation also offered by Holyrood health secretary Shona Robison, saying: “Severe weather and warnings not to travel did mean many staff could not get to hospital, and this level of disruption takes hospitals time to recover from.

“Despite that, on average 820 operations a day took place, and feedback from boards has shown that the clear majority of cancellations for capacity or non-clinical reasons in March was due to the adverse weather.”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont is unconvinced, however, saying: “Operations have to be cancelled for a variety of reasons, sometimes for the safety of a patient or by the patient themselves.

“However, for the hospital to be forced to cancel so many operations because the hospital is lacking beds, doctors or nurses is extremely worrying.

“NHS staff are being let down by the Scottish Government, who are ignoring this issue hoping it will simply go away. The truth is that cancellations have been an issue in the Borders for months, if not years.

“The time has come for the Scottish Government to look again at whether health boards with large rural populations like NHS Borders are being sufficiently supported.”

Figures out last week also reveal that 660 operations were cancelled in the Borders last financial year, with 342 of those being attributed to capacity or non-medical reasons.