Inefficiencies in the way hospitals use operating theatres mean that they have capacity to treat many more patients during elective sessions. Operating time is lost because many sessions start late or finish well before their scheduled end and a large number of cases are cancelled on the day of surgery. In addition, scheduling of operating sessions does not match predictable patterns of demand causing further lost time.
In 2014, nearly a quarter of available theatre time in elective surgery sessions was not used to treat patients. While 10 per cent of the overall time was used to clean and prepare theatres between cases, we estimate that approximately 3 000 hours was feasibly available across the five hospitals to treat many more patients. This time is equivalent to staffing two theatres for almost a year without treating any patients.
Efforts by the hospitals to improve operating theatre efficiency tend to be ad hoc with limited use of existing data. Better scheduling of surgery, in particular to take account of the demand for each clinical specialty, would allow more of the available time to be used, and reduce the need for and cost of staff working overtime. Improved direction and guidance from the Department of Health (Health) to hospitals would also bring a more determined approach to improving operating theatre efficiency.