South Tyrone Hospital has been forced to abort 43 operations at short notice over the past two years because a surgeon was not available.
In all, there were 581 cancelled operations last year, up from the previous year’s total of 483, leading to patient misery.
Other reasons for the delays included patient cancellations and patients deemed clinically unsuitable to undergo procedures.
The figures, which were released this week by the Department of Health after a question raised at the Northern Ireland Assembly by UUP MLA Rosemary Barton, reveal the serious impact that the local health system is having on frontline patient care.
The picture was a lot worse at Craigavon Area Hospital, which saw 839 cancelled operations in the same period.
MLA Barton said the situation was ‘unacceptable’ and called on the trust to do more to protect patients.
“The mental build up towards surgery is a very worrying time for many and it is not acceptable that this agony should continue indefinitely and cause a further deterioration on the patient’s health or even greater anxiety when the surgical procedure may be exploratory.
“Even more worrying for the patient is that once the surgical procedure is cancelled it is frequently at least one month before they are given another appointment,
“It is far from acceptable that surgery has had to be cancelled due to none attendance of the surgeon or a shortage of theatre staff. The Southern Trust and Health Minister must accept responsibility for this situation and look at alternatives as to how these types of cancellations can be avoided and waiting lists further extended.”
Patricia McKeown from the health workers’ union Unison said: “You cannot live with six or seven years of budget cuts without pressure on the system. We are well below the level of doctors and nurses that we should have.”
Ms McKeown, who is Unison’s regional secretary, said the issue must be urgently examined. “We need to urgently get to the bottom of why there are 60,000 cancelled appointments as a consequence of staff not being there,” she added.
“This has a huge impact on patients - a lot of these cancellations will have happened while people were in situ, in a hospital waiting room.”
Ms McKeown said a longer term strategy was now urgently needed to tackle the growing crisis.