Improving operating theatre productivity


Improving clinical productivity remains a major focus for NHS Provider Trusts. Maximising existing resources is paramount in reducing patient waiting times and decreasing financial pressures. Currently, waiting times are the highest they’ve been in 10 years, with more than four million patients waiting to be admitted to hospital in England. And NHS cost and demand rises by four per cent a year, but health funding will increase by less than one per cent a year between 2010 and 2020.

So, how can we improve outcomes for patients? And how can we restore financial sustainability?

How to start improving operating theatre productivity

In the first quarter of this year, we held productivity workshops for Trusts in the North and South of England. They focused on building skills, knowledge of the practical tools and processes needed to deliver improved productivity. What we found was, they all still face the same issues. So, what are the next steps?

1. Trust the data

When working with NHS Trusts across England, managers told us they question the accuracy of the data they receive and its impact on delivering improvements. As a result, a lot of time is wasted arguing about validity, rather than moving forward to delivery.

So, make sure there’s a robust methodology to data gathering and analysis. You need to be able to explain how you reached conclusions in a way that’s accessible to the people you need on board.

And your data needs to be more than just numbers. When it’s easy to visualise, you can get down to specific lists, patient groups and teams. This highlights problems and opportunities, and makes it easier to see solutions.

Finally, arm people with the information that’s relevant to them. This will make it easier for them to see how they can improve.

2. Look outside theatres

Improving theatre productivity means looking at the whole pathway, not just utilisation. Aligning demand and capacity, optimising booking and scheduling, ensuring pre-operative assessment works… the list goes on. The challenge for teams is to find areas that will have an impact and address them. Use the data to inform where you need to focus.

3. Stay focused to make change happen

Staying focused is the key to delivering improvement. It takes concerted effort, energy and resource. It needs people from different functions to come together and agree on changes. This is about more than just new tools, it’s about a cultural shift as well. But this can be hard to do.

So, don’t waste time on things that won’t have an impact. Use data to get to the issues and their root causes, and spend your time fixing the right problems.

For any larger issues, break down the changes you need to make into manageable chunks. Find the right people to target short-term, time-bound deliverables. This maintains momentum and lets you celebrate successes along the journey.

Once you’ve validated what needs to change, nail down what the new ‘business as usual’ will look and feel like. And be honest about what will change – how teams might need to spend their time differently, how expectations will change, or how success will be measured. Creating a shared definition of this early on will mean you can chart progress, and challenge each other to get there quicker.

By focusing on these three areas, operating theatre productivity will be improved more quickly. Now it’s time for Trusts to make it happen.

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