Gran fears for life as cancer op cancelled four times


By Jill Geoghegan 


Miss O'Conner has had her surgery cancelled four times by Ninewells Hospital (Picture by Fgioqwerty)

A SCOTTISH grandmother has had a life-saving operation cancelled four times because of a lack of beds in intensive care.

Helen O’Connor (41) has been told she could have to wait eight weeks before going under the knife for her bowel cancer.

Miss O’Conner was originally scheduled for surgery at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital on December 5.

NHS guidelines say a cancelled operation must be rescheduled within 28 days, but Miss O’Conner has been told she my have to wait until January 30 to have the vital 10 hour operation.

NHS Tayside cancelled Miss O’Conner’s scheduled surgery just hours before she was due to set off for the hospital.

Officials called her at 6am on the morning of the operation to tell her there was a shortage of beds in the intensive care unit at Ninewells Hospital.

The operation was pushed back by six days only for it to be cancelled again at the 11th hour as the hospital had given her bed to someone else. To add to Miss O’Conner’s distress, hospital staff had already dressed and prepared her for surgery.

Another date was given for December 18 but due to the patient’s low weight and weakened immune system she did not feel strong enough to undergo the procedure.

When the patient contacted the hospital to ask about the progress of her operation, O’ Connor was told that her surgeon was on holiday and would not be due back until January 4.


The current NHS guidelines state that if a hospital cancels an operation on the day of the scheduled surgery, another binding date will have to be offered within a maximum of twenty eight days, which in O’ Connor’s case would be January 18.

The date of surgery has now been provisionally set for January 30 but may be postponed further.

Miss O’Conner was told in November that her chances of surviving the cancer were between 20% and 50%, and the grandmother-of-one fears that the delay may further reduce her likelihood of recovery.

She said: “I know my cancer is spreading. I know I am going to lose the bottom half of my stomach in the operation and I’m worried that if I wait much longer I may lose the top half as well and I could die.”

An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “The intensive care unit atNinewellsHospitaloperates a high level of occupancy. In circumstances where a patient’s operation is postponed then a further date for surgery is arranged as soon as possible.”



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  1. Sadly, the prognosis that Helen had may be true. But it may not be – it wasn’t in my case. At my diagnosis, I was told I was too far gone (stage 4 metastatic bladder cancer) and there was nothing they could do for me. I only had weeks to live; go home and make preparations. That was over 4 years ago.

    The problem is both letting survivors know and follow the well-attested advice to improve and know how healthy they are. Essentially, what is needed is for the patient to be in control and have feedback to judge how well s/he is.

    Briefly: I have evolved a programme for the pro-active patient which, allied to the clinical treatments and not compromising that in any way, is likely to significantly extend survival time. All this is evidence-based, on three aspects: quantitative assessments, feedback, and lifestyle (known to effect survival). So the patient takes/has taken at regular intervals (weekly/monthly/quarterly in my case): cancer biomarker tests, immune assays, body composition, cellular health (Vit.D3, homocysteine, EFA profile). On the basis of these, changes in lifestyle can be undertaken to optimise those not already so, and then check again later. As a patient’s healthiness improves by their own actions, this will enhance their motivation and survival time.

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