New research from Healthwatch shows that people are currently facing multiple cancellations or postponements of care which are having a significant impact on their lives and symptoms, while further increasing health inequalities.
Healthwatch cmmissioned a survey of 1084 people who have seen their NHS care either cancelled or postponed this year to understand the extent of disruption to care amid rising waiting lists, workforce issues, and industrial action, and other pressures on the NHS.
- Over one in three, 39%, have had their NHS care cancelled or postponed two or more times this year. This has included hospital operations, tests, scans, outpatient appointments, and community health service appointments.
- Nearly one in five (18%) of the respondents have had their care cancelled or postponed at the last minute, which the NHS defines as on the day of or on arrival to an appointment. And almost half, 45%, experienced a cancellation with between one- and seven-days notice.
- Two-thirds of the respondents, 66%, said cancellations to care had impacted their lives, reporting ongoing pain, worsening mental health, worsening symptoms, and disrupted sleep, among many other problems.
NHS pressures widen existing health inequalities
- Disruptions to care disproportionately affect certain groups, widening existing health inequalities. People who have greater health needs are still facing serious barriers to timely care, and they are also more likely to be more affected by cancellations of care.
- Unpaid carers, 84%, and neurodivergent people, 83%, were more likely to report negative impacts of cancelled care on their lives, followed by people on low incomes, 80%; and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, 75%.
- Groups who were more likely to have had two or more NHS postponements or cancellations included disabled people, 52%; neurodivergent people, 51%; and people on lower incomes, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ being affected the most, 49%, respectively.
The survey also found:
- More than three-quarters, 79%, of the respondents said the NHS had offered them ‘very little’ or ‘no support’ to manage their mental health risks.
- More than half, 52%, said they hadn’t been offered support to manage their medical condition during the new wait for care, 24% had had ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ support and 21% said ‘a little’ support.
- One in seven,15%, were told their care had been cancelled due to industrial action in the NHS, while nearly a quarter, 24%, believed strike action was the reason, though they had not been told this.
- Nearly half, 41%, said their care was cancelled for another reason; and 20% didn’t know why.
Healthwatch calls to action
- Collect and publish official data on cancellations to understand what is driving non-clinical, clinical or patient-led reasons for delays;
- Use this data to reduce the high number of last-minute cancellations;
- Offer more significant support to those most affected by new delays, especially with mental health needs; and
- Improve administrative processes and communications to close the gap for those who are left in limbo with no new date.