The number of operations cancelled last minute at Dorset County Hospital has surged.

Figures from NHS England show that 97 non-urgent operations, such as hip or knee procedures, were cancelled by the Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at the last minute in the three months to September.

This was an increase of 23 per cent from the same period in 2017, when there were 79.

DCH said it doesn't take the decision to postpone a patient’s operation lightly.

The data covers cancellations for to non-clinical reasons, such as bed or staff shortages.

The Royal College of Surgeons has blamed pressure on the over-stretched NHS for the increasing number of cancellations in England.

It also warned the figures could be masking the true scale of the problem, as they do not include operations cancelled at more than 24 hours' notice.

A last-minute cancellation is defined as being either on the day that a patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived, or on the day of the operation itself.

Professor Cliff Shearman, vice president of the RCS, said: “Having an operation that has been planned for months cancelled at short notice can be very stressful

"Alongside practical considerations such as wasted time off work and rescheduling the surgery, patients will have to deal with the mental anguish of preparing for surgery all over again."

If a trust is unable to reschedule the operation within 28 days, it must instead fund the treatment in another hospital.

It also forfeits its payment from the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group.

There were 18,460 last minute cancellations across England in the three months to September.

Of these, 8.3 per cent of patients did not have their operations rescheduled within 28 days.

This rate is higher than the same period a year ago, when it was 6.8 per cent.

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at health think-tank the Nuffield Trust, said: "Although these numbers are small, this is yet another sign of how difficult the NHS is currently finding it to provide as much planned care as people need."

A spokesman for DCH said: “We don’t take the decision to postpone a patient’s operation lightly as we understand how distressing and inconvenient this is for people.

“Planned operations may be cancelled at short notice because an emergency case has had to take priority in the operating theatre, operations took longer than expected or we do not have hospital beds available. We will always book patients back in for their operation as soon as possible.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “Only a small minority of operations are cancelled on the day, while 15,000 fewer people now wait a year for their operation compared with 2010."