What if my NHS surgery or operation is cancelled at the last minute?

If the hospital cancels your operation at the last minute for non-clinical reasons, they should offer you a new date for your operation. This date should be within 28 days of the date your operation was originally booked for. This is a pledge in the NHS Constitution.

This 28-day standard covers all planned and booked hospital operations, including day surgery (where you don’t need to stay in hospital overnight). It doesn’t cover minor operations carried out at outpatient appointments or clinics.

What does ‘at the last minute’ mean?

This means that the hospital cancels your operation:

  • on the day you’re due to arrive in hospital
  • after you’ve arrived in hospital
  • on the day that your operation or surgery is due to take place

What are non-clinical reasons?

There are many non-clinical reasons for hospitals cancelling operations, such as:

  • no beds are available on the ward
  • no critical care beds are available
  • staff are not available, such as the surgeon, anaesthetist or operating theatre staff
  • an emergency case had to take priority in the operating theatre
  • operations took longer than expected, so the list of operations over-ran
  • some equipment isn't working
  • there has been an administrative error

What if I’m offered a new date that doesn’t suit me?

If you’re offered another date within 28 days, but the new date is not convenient, you can choose to be treated on a different date, even if this falls after the 28 days.

What if I’m not offered a new date within 28 days?

In this case, you can choose to:

  • stay on the list for your operation with your existing consultant and hospital, or
  • be treated at another time and hospital of your choice; the existing hospital will pay for this

If you have not been offered an appointment within 28 days, you should contact the organisation (Clinical Commissioning Group or NHS England) that commissions and funds your treatment.   

If you are not happy with the organisation’s response, you also have the option of taking the complaint further using the NHS complaints procedure

What if my operation is cancelled before the day I was due to arrive in hospital?

The cancelled operations pledge does not apply, but you still have the right to start consultant-led treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral for non-urgent conditions, as stated in the NHS Constitution.

Read the answers to more questions about operations, tests and procedures.

Further information: