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Row erupts after claim that better theatre utilisation could deliver an extra 280,000 operations

Could better theatre management boost throughput?

An NHS Improvement claim that existing staff and theatres could conduct an extra 280,000 operations a year through more efficient management has sparked a major row.

The claim was included in a briefing note based on an unpublished study of theatre capacity and utilisation in 100 trusts during 2016. According to Health Service Journal editors, an example of the way in which improvement could be achieved was said to be reducing late starts and early finishes.

An NHS Providers analyst warned that the proposition that aggregating 60 minute slots would allow an extra 280,000 operations was optimistic because theatres are part of wider hospital systems, and emergencies can displace elective care.

Also, extra surgical procedures would have to be funded by clinical commissioning groups.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) argued that shortages of beds to transfer patients into was a major issue, adding that with hospitals completely full surgery departments cannot not be used more efficiently.

Nuffield Trust think-tank chief executive Nigel Edwards said the study looked interesting but warned there were questions about whether other departments, such as intensive care, had capacity. He added that cancellations often reflected staff shortages.

The regulator’s briefing note claimed that on average a third of operating lists studied started 30 minutes late and finished 30 minutes early. It added that the extra operations that could have been delivered would have generated £400m in additional income. 

Further information

HSJExperts challenge NHS Improvement claims on theatre efficiency

RCS: RCS response to NHS Improvement study on operating theatre efficiency

Website: NHS Providers

Website: Nuffield Trust

Website: NHS Providers