Labour seized on the trend to spearhead an offensive against the Tories' health service record as it prepared to publish its own strategy for the NHS.
Margaret Beckett, the shadow Secretary of State for Health, highlighted government figures which showed that between 1 January and 31 March, 14,500 patients in England had an operation cancelled at the last minute. The figure is 22 per cent up on the previous quarter, when 11,874 operations were cancelled. The number of patients not re-admitted within one month after having an operation cancelled - one of the pledges set out in the Patients' Charter - was said to have risen by 49 per cent, from 1,343 to 2,005.
A total of 48,163 operations were cancelled on the day of, or the day after, admission to hospital in 1994-95, said Labour.
In an attack on Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, Mrs Beckett said the figures were evidence of "failed Conservative health 'reforms". She added: "Every cancelled operation is a personal ordeal of considerable inconvenience - they must be kept to an absolute minimum."
The Department of Health acknowledged there was a problem. A spokeswoman said: "Obviously we are concerned, as the number of cancelled operations does appear to be increasing.
"It is one of the few trends that is going the wrong way and is something we'll be focusing on. The whole point of recording and reporting this information is that it highlights where we need to put more effort in. That is something which didn't happen before the reforms."Reuse content