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 are also included.

Main points

  • The total number of planned operations across NHSScotland during March 2021 was 17,755, an increase of 44.0% from 12,334 in February 2021 and a decrease of 12.1% from 20,192 in March 2020.
  • In March 2021, 1,111 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 870 (7.1%) in February 2021 and 3,019 (15%) in March 2020. At NHS Board level, this percentage ranged from 2.9% to 20.3%.
  • Of all planned operations during March 2021, 491 (2.8%) were cancelled by the hospital based on clinical reasons, 283 (1.6%) were cancelled by the hospital due to capacity or non-clinical reasons, 298 (1.7%) were cancelled by the patient and 39 (0.2%) were cancelled due to other reasons.
Image caption Percentage of total planned operations by reasons for cancellation, up to March 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 March 2019 to March 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. From the 19 June, Boards started to resume some services as part of the planned remobilisation of services (external website), which will include the rescheduling of cancelled procedures. Then, as a second wave of COVID-19 cases emerged through the autumn months, a strategic national framework (external website) was introduced by the Scottish Government with the aim of supressing the virus to the lowest possible level whilst tackling the ‘harms’ caused by the pandemic. This included maximising the safe and effective resumption of planned services where possible, whilst balancing the need to ensure sufficient capacity to respond to the resurgence of COVID-19. On the 18 November, the SG published a Clinical Prioritisation Framework (external website) with the aim of providing guidance on how patients waiting for treatment should be prioritised whilst ensuring appropriate COVID-19 safety and priority measures are in place.

Further information

Data from this publication is available to download from the data files section at the top of this page. Open data is available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform (external website).

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

The next release of this publication will be June 2021.

NHS Performs

A selection of information from this publication is included in NHS Performs (external website). NHS Performs is a website that brings together a range of information on how hospitals and NHS Boards within NHSScotland are performing.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please contact 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: 07 October 2022
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