‘Thousands more operations could be done with improved NHS efficiency’  

4 Feb 19

Hospitals could carry out more than 290,000 extra routine operations each year if they improved the way they schedule surgeries, according to a health watchdog. 

A third of operating lists started 30 minutes or more late between January and December 2017, data collected from 92 trusts across England by NHS Improvement has suggested. 

Some operations finished ahead of time with 38% of operating lists finishing 30 minutes or more early, a report, carried out jointly with audit firm Deloitte, said.

Analysing data collected by NHS Improvement, Deloitte concluded theatre time lost to late starts, early finishes and delays between operations could potentially have been used by the 92 trusts to do up to 291,327 more operations - a 16.8% increase.

To improve scheduling, the watchdog suggested more trusts in England roll out the ‘6-4-2 model’ whereby surgical staff agree annual leave six weeks in advance, agree their surgical lists four weeks in advance and double check their plans two weeks in advance.

Tim Briggs, national director of clinical improvement for the NHS and council member for the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “While waiting times for surgery are lower than they have been historically, more can be done, so it is important that we work with clinical teams to identify further solutions and share best practice.

“It is encouraging that pockets of innovation, like the 6-4-2 model exist already across the NHS and are benefitting both patients and surgical teams. As the NHS long term plan states, we need to ramp up these efforts where clinically appropriate so that they become the norm and so that we can address the variation that exists.”

Ian Eardley, also a council member of the RCS, pointed out the number of routine operations carried out by the NHS was also effected by a lack of beds.

“We must not underestimate the wider challenges hospitals face to increase the number of operations they perform,” he said.

“Bed capacity is severely constrained across the NHS with recent OECD statistics showing that the UK has the second lowest number of hospital beds for each 1,000 people in the whole of the EU.

“Such shortages mean time is wasted by NHS staff in freeing up beds instead of treating patients. This problem is compounded by workforce shortages.”

Data released by NHS England in January showed a growing number of beds being closed due to norovirus.

The National Audit Office recently warned that the NHS’s finances are unsustainable.

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