OPERATIONS had to be cancelled at north Cumbria's hospitals because anaesthetic equipment had not undergone vital servicing.

A total of 16 planned procedures did not go ahead yesterday after the problems emerged.

The majority were at Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary, though the West Cumberland Hospital was also affected.

Hospital chiefs have launched an investigation.

They stress that all emergency surgery did still go ahead, with only pre-planned elective procedures cancelled.

They have apologised to patients and pledged to reschedule the operations quickly.

The News & Star understands that several anaesthetic machines had not been serviced in line with strict requirements.

When this emerged, engineers were called in to carry out urgent servicing tests.

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals, stressed that it was a precautionary measure.

Bosses said they could not comment on the details at this stage, but an investigation was launched immediately.

Mandy Nagra, executive chief operating officer at the hospitals trust, told the News & Star: “We can confirm that we have postponed a number of elective procedures at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital as a precautionary measure while a number of our anaesthetic machines are serviced.

"Our emergency procedures have gone ahead and we apologise for the short notice cancellations.

"We will ensure the patients who have been postponed are rearranged as soon as possible.”

However a hospital insider told the News & Star that servicing the machines on a regular basis should be a top priority for the trust. They claimed that the machines should have been serviced weeks ago.

The source added: "The bottom line is that the hospital has been using out of service date equipment.

"You wouldn't drive a car without an MOT and yet people were being operated on with unserviced anaesthetic machines."

It is understood that the machines affected are vital for life support during surgery.