The impact of surgical cancellations on children, families, and the health system in an Australian paediatric tertiary referral hospital

Paediatr Anaesth. 2021 May;31(5):578-586. doi: 10.1111/pan.14153. Epub 2021 Feb 28.


Background: Reasons for elective surgery cancelations and their impact vary from one institution to another. Cancelations have emotional and financial implications for patients and their families. Our service has a particularly broad and geographically diverse patient population; hence, we sought to examine these impacts in our service.

Methods: We identified families with procedural cancelations and administered a telephone questionnaire. Survey items included the reason for and timing of cancelation, how the family was informed, the mode of transport and distance traveled to the hospital, associated leave from work, expenses, whether the child was required to fast, missed school, as well as the child's and parent's emotional responses to the cancelation, along with overall parental satisfaction with how the cancelation was handled.

Results: During our study period, a total of 7870 procedures were booked. 6734 (86%) of these were completed and 1136 (14%) were canceled, with 6% canceled on the day of surgery. In 750 (66%) of these cancelations, families were successfully contacted by telephone and agreed to participate. Of these 305 (41%) cancelations were family-initiated and 444 (59%) were hospital-initiated, with these hospital-initiated cancelations occurring closer to scheduled surgery. The most common cause of cancelation was that the child could not undergo the procedure due to illness (22%) or being unable attend the hospital (14%). The greatest disruption to families and children occurred when procedures were canceled late, particularly when the cancelation occurred on the day of the planned procedure.

Keywords: anesthesia; cancelations; pediatrics; surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules*
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Elective Surgical Procedures*
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups
  • Tertiary Care Centers