Many operating theatres in Wales are not being used efficiently

9 Mar 2016 - 11:57am

The focus on safety has improved but NHS Wales needs to secure better value for money from operating theatres

The Auditor General has released his latest report today on Operating Theatres, and concluded that there is ‘considerable scope to improve theatre utilisation, reduce late starts and minimise cancellations’.

The report looks at operating theatres across Wales and examines whether operating theatre time is used efficiently and whether key safety steps are being used properly. It identifies an increased focus on patient safety through the use of tools such as the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist although the report notes that is not always used in the best way.

The report also highlights problems with;

  • Expensive theatre time being lost through operating sessions not being fully utilised;
  • Operations being cancelled because beds are not available for admitting patients or because patients postpone or do not turn up on the day of their surgery. Nearly half of all postponed procedures were because the patient had cancelled or did not attend their appointment; and
  • Health boards not effectively using data to monitor and improve theatre performance.

The Auditor General’s work has shown that theatre time is being lost through operating sessions starting late, finishing early and through gaps between one patient leaving theatre and the next patient arriving. The report highlights a range of factors that can affect theatre efficiency including poor planning of operating lists with unrealistically high or low numbers of patients being booked in for surgery, problems with theatre equipment leading to breakdowns and delays, and difficulties in meeting the recommended level of staffing.

The report also suggests that problems related to the availability of beds are a barrier to the smooth running of operating theatres and a common cause of cancellations. Theatres staff expressed frustration at not being able to run their sessions efficiently because of difficulties finding beds for their patients. 

Auditor General, Huw Vaughan-Thomas said today: “Patient safety is of paramount importance to the NHS and it is good to see that the focus on safety in theatres is growing. However, operating theatres are expensive to run and there is a lot more that health boards can do to ensure that their theatre capacity is used efficiently and effectively. Achieving this will have benefits for both patients and health boards with fewer cancelled operations, and better performance against waiting time targets.”

The report makes a number of recommendations that include:

  • Introducing regular audits and spot checks of surgical safety;
  • Introducing a national forum for theatre improvement;
  • Improving leadership of theatre services in health boards;
  • Benchmarking staffing levels and skills in theatres;
  • Improving the reporting of theatre performance to NHS boards and committees; and
  • Making data visible in theatres to contribute to a culture of improvement.