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Health Insight May 2002: Inefficient operating theatres

  NHS hospitals in England and Wales waste at least 150,000 operating slots every year because managers and doctors cancel sessions in theatres for no good reason, according to findings by the Audit Commission. A scathing report said the average hospital cancelled about ten per cent of the available sessions, but in some poorly managed trusts the cancellation rate was more than thirty per cent. Theatres were often closed because surgeons or anaesthetists took leave at short notice without ensuring colleagues would fill their slots. The commission acknowledged it was unrealistic to expect every operating theatre to work at full capacity throughout the year. However, with good management cancelled sessions could be ‘reduced to five per cent or less of those scheduled’. The report was based on routine audits of seventy NHS trusts over the past three years.

Another report from the Health Services Management Centre (MSMC) at the University of Birmingham shows that in some specialities medical productivity has dropped by twenty per cent. Doctors said the drop was linked to a nationwide shortage of hospital beds, which prevents many surgeons from admitting patients for operations. According to HSMC data the number of patients treated by a single consultant who works exclusively in the NHS fell by an average of ten per cent in the past six years. Health economist Professor Alan Maynard of York suggested the money being allocated by the government was not being spent on patient care. Health Secretary Alan Milburn responded that better administrative and IT support creates a better balance between the quantity of patients that are being seen, and the quality of care being given.

Source: Independent 16th May, Guardian 16th May, BBC Online

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  Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2002. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.