2022 Heatwave Struck Off Surgery in Fifth of UK Hospitals

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03/27/2023

Newswise — The 2022 summer heatwave resulted in a fifth of UK hospitals being forced to cancel operations during the three days when temperatures soared, a new study reveals.

Had the high temperatures continued, a further third of hospitals would have had to cancel surgery, as NHS buildings are not set up to withstand dangerously high temperatures.

The team surveyed surgeons, anaesthetists, and critical care doctors working during the heatwave of 16 – 19 July 2022.

They received 271 responses from 140 UK hospitals with one in five respondents (18.5%) reporting the heatwave resulted in elective surgery being cancelled. A further third (35.1%) anticipated that cancellations would have been likely had the heatwave continued.

Factors contributing to heatwave-related cancellations included staff shortages (35.8% of respondents), unsafe theatre environments (30.3%), and bed shortages (22.1%).

Surgical services were poorly prepared for heatwaves with ambient temperature uncontrollable in 41.0% of operating theatres. Most hospitals which responded (85%) lacked ‘summer pressure’ plans to maintain elective surgical safety and capacity. Over a third of respondents (35.4%) reported making adaptations to maintain As Britain sweltered in the heatwave of 2022, the impact on NHS elective surgery was serious with hospitals cancelling operations.routine surgical activity during the heatwave.

Co-author Mr James Glasbey, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in Global Surgery at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Even short heatwaves may result in widespread disruption to surgical services in the UK. The likelihood of extreme weather events is growing - we could find ourselves in both a 'winter' and 'summer' stress situation within the next few years.

“As hospitals tackle post-COVID surgery backlogs, they must consider how to safeguard against further climate change-related disruption to the delivery of surgical services. This should be included in the preparation of ‘summer pressure’ plans to improve the resilience of elective surgery services.”

Supported by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Global Health Research Unit Grant, the GreenSurg Collaborative, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, published their findings in a letter to British Journal of Surgery.

The researchers discovered that hospitals adopted several strategies during the heatwave to cushion the impact of rising temperatures on surgical patients. These included delayed discharge of high-risk patients, changes to surgical teams, selecting lower risk patients to have surgery, and restricting surgical activity to day-cases.

Some hospitals also introduced longer staff breaks, gave extra fluids to patients admitted, and started surgeries earlier in the morning when temperatures were lower.

ENDS

Note for Editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 8,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The letter was written by Maria Picciochi, James C Glasbey, Elizabeth Li, Sivesh K Kamarajah, Dmitri Nepogodiev, Joana FF Simoes, and Aneel Bhangu as part of the GreenSurg Collaborative and published in British Journal of Surgery.

About The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. It does this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public
  • health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries.
  • NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

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