The efficiency of our public hospital operating theatres is just one of many important and complex issues that the Health system must manage. Efficient theatres save money, enable hospitals to manage their wait list and help minimise the time patients have to wait for surgery.
Western Australia has 112 operating theatres within 32 public hospitals, plus additional theatres at two privately operated public hospitals. Over 81 000 elective surgery cases as well as thousands of emergency surgery cases were performed in public hospitals in 2014-15.
I undertook this audit with the knowledge that assessing hospital theatre efficiency would be a difficult data driven exercise and that good communication with the clinical stakeholders and administrative staff would be essential. I am pleased to say that we received wonderful cooperation from all concerned.
We chose three metropolitan and two large regional hospitals as the basis for our assessment and drew on the expertise of a subject expert to help us navigate our way through the results. The audit focused on elective surgery, which is surgery that is medically necessary but does not have to be performed within 24 hours of diagnosis.
The audit identified a range of causes for lost theatre time and significant potential benefits from improving existing arrangements.
We estimated that theatre use across the five hospitals could increase by approximately 3 000 hours per year – hours that would be available to treat more elective surgery patients assuming that other hospital capacity is in place.
The audit also identified the need for the Department of Health and hospitals to better understand operating theatre usage and taking action to address inefficiency. This will become increasingly important as activity based funding takes hold of the health system.
The Department of Health recognises that it can improve operating theatre efficiency and to that end has welcomed the audit’s findings and recommendations. I would like to thank the staff of Sir Charles Gairdner, Osborne Park, Swan District, Albany and Bunbury Hospitals as well as those at the Department of Health who provided valuable assistance and advice during the audit.