Are 125,000 operations predicted to be cancelled?

9 September 2016
What was claimed

Between 13,000 and 125,000 operations will be cancelled as a result of upcoming junior doctors’ strikes.

Our verdict

The current estimate is 125,000 operations cancelled, this figure is based on the number of operations which were cancelled over two days during the last strike in April. However, these figures were calculated before the specific dates were announced and before the September strike was suspended

“[T]he industrial action announced by the British Medical Association… will affect an estimated one million appointments and 125,000 operations.”

Telegraph, 1 September 2016

“… 125,000 operations and around one million appointments…”

Sky News, LBC, Sun, Daily Mail, 31 August-2 September 2016

“[Jeremy Hunt] added: 'Perhaps 100,000 operations will now have to be cancelled, around a million hospital appointments will have to be postponed, causing worry, distress and anxiety for families up and down the country.'”

BBC News, 31 August 2016

“Based on the level of cancellations we saw when the BMA took similar action in April we may see, I would say, at least 13 to 15,000 cancellations and rearrangements of planned work for patients.”  

Danny Mortimer, CEO NHS Employers, 31 August 2016

125,000 operations and around one million outpatient appointments are estimated be cancelled as a result of strike action announced by junior doctors. This is due to take place over three separate strikes between October and December. A five day strike in September has been postponed.

Although the Department of Health, NHS Employers and the Secretary of State all seem to have announced slightly different figures, they now all agree that there are likely to be just over 125,000 operations cancelled.

They are based on a prediction based on figures from the past, so the length of the upcoming strikes and the different time of year may have an effect on the actual number of cancellations.

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The figures were calculated before the dates of the junior doctors’ strikes had been announced

The Department of Health has said to us that it had projected around 125,000 operations and one million outpatient appointments would be cancelled as a result of the junior doctors strikes from September to December. This projection was done before any of the specific dates for the strikes were announced.

The estimate was also made before the BMA announced that the strikes from 12 to 16 September were suspended. The Department of Health told us that the figure was still in this region as hospitals had already started cancelling operations and appointments in preparation for the strike. NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS service providers, agrees with this figure.

It was calculated by using the number of cancelled operations and appointments in the last junior doctors strike, 12,711 and 112,856 respectively. This was then multiplied to work out how many would occur on strikes over five days in each of the next four months. It works out at around 127,000 operations and 1,129,000 appointments.

So it assumes that the cancellations in the coming months will be similar to those in April, per day.

Of course we don’t know if this will turn out to be the case: the planned strikes are taking place at a different time of year and are happening in larger chunks than those earlier in the year. This could have an effect on cancellations.

The Secretary of State quoted 100,000 in a number of interviews, but the Department of Health told us that this was an approximation of the 125,000 figure.

NHS Employers has said to us that its latest estimate is also 125,000 in line with the government and NHS Providers. Its earlier figure of 13,000 to 15,000 was based on the number of operations cancelled due to industrial action over two days last April and was reached without knowing the extent of the strikes planned by the BMA.

No exact figures for how many cancellations will be needed have been released yet.

How many operations were cancelled in the last strikes?

  • 7,152 operations were cancelled in December 2015, but the strike was called off.
  • 4,112 operations were cancelled as a result of the first strike in January
  • 2,884 operations were cancelled for 10 February.
  • 5,264 operations were cancelled for industrial action in March.
  • 5,156 operations were cancelled for strikes on 6 and 7 April.
  • 12,711 operations were cancelled during the second strike at the end of April. There were also 112,856 outpatient appointments cancelled.

Both sides say this is about patient care

The Secretary of State has said that “the remaining planned industrial action is unprecedented in length and severity and will be damaging to patients, some of whose operations will have already been cancelled.” He added it would inflict “unprecedented misery on millions of patients up and down the country.”

Dr McCourt, the Chair of the British Medical Association Junior Doctors Committee, has said “This contract will be in place for many years, it will have a direct impact on patient care and whether we can attract and keep enough doctors in the NHS… This is not a situation junior doctors wanted to find themselves in. We want to resolve this dispute through talks, but in forcing through a contract that junior doctors have rejected and which they don’t believe is good for their patients or themselves, the government has left them with no other choice.”

We’ve looked into the background of the contract dispute here.

 Image courtesy of Phallnn Ool

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