About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides a monthly update on the number of operations in NHSScotland that were cancelled the day before, or on the day the patient was due to be treated. Information on the reasons for cancellations is also included.

Main points

  • The total number of planned operations across NHSScotland during May 2021 was 20,081, an increase of 7.8% from 18,630 in April 2021, but a decrease of 27.4% from 27,645 in February 2020, the last month before COVID-19 began to have a significant impact on services.
  • In May 2021, 1,269 operations, or 6.3% of all planned operations, were cancelled the day before or on the day the patient was due to be treated. This compares to 1,141 (6.1%) in April 2021 and 2,481 (9.0%) in February 2020. At NHS Board level, this percentage ranged from 1.1% to 9.2%.
  • Of all planned operations during May 2021, 587 (2.9%) were cancelled by the hospital based on clinical reasons, 274 (1.4%) were cancelled by the hospital due to capacity or non-clinical reasons, 367 (1.8%) were cancelled by the patient and 41 (0.2%) were cancelled due to other reasons.
Image caption Total planned operations and percentage of cancelled planned operations, by reason, up to May 2021
This is a chart showing, for NHS Scotland, the total planned operations and the percentage of patients who had their planned operation cancelled for the reasons of clinical, non-clinical/capacity, cancelled by patient or other reasons. Data is from May 2019 to May 2021. A red vertical line at March 2020 shows the point where the NHS was placed under emergency measures to the COVID-19 pandemic.


These statistics are released monthly. Data for this publication are submitted from NHS board theatre systems.

The following definitions are used for the cancellation reason groupings:

  • Cancellation based on clinical reason by hospital includes 'patient unwell', 'patient not prepared for procedure correctly by hospital' and 'patient did not follow pre op instruction'.
  • Cancellation based on capacity or non-clinical reason by hospital includes 'no beds available', 'staff not available', 'equipment not available' and 'theatre session overran'.
  • Cancellation by patient includes 'patient decides not to go ahead with procedure', 'patient unable to attend', 'patient did not attend' and 'patient did not attend pre-op'.
  • Other includes 'fire alarm prevents operation from taking place', 'weather prevented patient / staff travelling' and 'patient transport did not arrive in time to bring patient to hospital'.

These statistics continue to be affected by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. During the early stage of the outbreak, many operations were cancelled well ahead of their planned date, particularly if related to non-urgent elective treatment. Boards started to resume relevant services, from June 2020 but a second wave of cases emerged in the autumn and as the number of hospitalisations escalated during the winter months some boards temporarily paused non-urgent elective care again.

Further information

For more information on cancelled planned operations see the cancelled planned operations section of the Data and Intelligence website (external website). For related topics, please see the waiting times pages on the Data and Intelligence website (external website).

A selection of information from this publication is included in NHS Performs (external website).

The next release of this publication will be August 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.waitingtimes@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 13 June 2022
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