Nearly 15,000 children’s operations were cancelled last year, in part due to a lack of staff and beds, analysis suggests.
Data gathered under freedom of information laws by the Liberal Democrats shows 14,628 operations were cancelled in 2022, up from 11,870 the year before and the highest figure for the last five years.
Some 77 NHS hospital trusts in England provided the data, which showed that 59,566 operations have been cancelled since 2018.
Some 2,894 children’s operations were cancelled due to a lack of staff, up 52% on the year before.
Meanwhile, 446 were cancelled due to equipment problems, and 1,100 were axed due to a lack of theatre time on the day or because lists were overbooked.
The data suggests long waits for an op included a child at Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals, who was waiting one year and 62 days for a paediatrics procedure, according to the trust.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The shocking scale of cancelled children’s operations is a badge of shame for this Conservative Government.
“Behind these figures are countless children and parents having to wait in pain and distress.
“Years of neglect by this Government have led to chronic staff shortages and a lack of hospital beds, with communities across the country paying the price.
“We need a rescue plan now to bring local health services back from the brink.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders are acutely aware that far too many children are waiting far too long for the care they need because of significant shortages of beds, staff and equipment.
“We’re seeing severe pressures on children’s services right across the health and care system.
“Mental health referrals, including for children and young people, are at an all-time high with long waits also being seen for speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and other key community services including those for neurological needs such as autism and ADHD.
“It’s really important that children and young people receive timely treatment given their developmental needs but also to prevent more care being required further down the line.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities.
“The NHS has already virtually eliminated waits of more than two years for treatment, while 18-month waits have been cut by over 80% since the peak in September 2021.
“We have also opened 94 new community diagnostic centres which have delivered over 3.5 million tests, checks and scans, since July 2021 – supporting patients to be diagnosed and access treatment more quickly.
“At the same time, we’re growing the healthcare workforce – we’re on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses into the NHS by next year and we have almost hit our target of delivering 26,000 additional primary care staff.
“The NHS will publish a long-term workforce plan shortly to support and grow the workforce.”