Despite increasing evidence of the benefits and safety of early laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) in acute gallstone disease, it is not widely practised in England. The Royal College of Surgeons of England support the separation of emergency and elective surgical care. The aim of this prospective study was to examine the impact of the implementation of ‘Surgeon of the Week (SoW)’ model on the number of early LCs performed and the efficiency of the emergency theatre activity in our hospital. This study also looked into its implications on specialist registrar training for early LC, and the financial impact to the hospital.

Between January 2007 and May 2008, demographic data, admission and discharge dates, complications, conversions to an open operation and deaths were collected for all patients who underwent early laparoscopic cholecystectomies. For ease of comparison, patients were divided into Group A representing before introduction of SoW (1 January 2007 to 30 August 2007) and Group B representing after introduction of SoW (1 October 2007 to 31 May 2008). The total numbers of operations performed in the emergency theatre list in the two groups were also calculated.

A total of 1361 emergency operations were performed on the emergency theatre list in Group A, of which 951 were general surgical procedures. In Group B, the numbers of emergency procedures were 1537, of which 1138 were general surgical operations. There was a significant increase in the number of general surgical operations after introduction of SoW (P = 0.013). Before introduction of the SoW rota, 45 early LCs were performed. This increased to 118 after SoW which was significant (P < 0.001). In Group A, the number of early LCs performed by surgical trainees was 10 (22%). In Group B, the number of LCs performed by surgical trainees was 35 (30%; not significant).

This study has demonstrated an increase in the efficiency of the emergency theatre with an increase in the number of early LCs on their index admission without extra morbidity following implementation of the SOW model in our hospital. We recommend the introduction of a suitable emergency surgical consultant on-call model separating emergency and elective surgical care depending on local circumstances. This can lead to significant cost savings and reduce re-admissions with gallstone-related complications.

Acute biliary disease secondary to gallstones is a frequent cause for acute surgical admission. Recent literature review suggests that early (within 7 days of onset of symptoms) laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) for acute gallstone disease is safe1 and cost-effective.2 Early LC has also been shown to improve quality of life.3 Few hospitals in the UK routinely perform early LC for acute gallstone diseases due to lack of manpower and resources.4 Time restrictions on emergency theatre lists often means that patients are discharged after an index emergency admission with plans for re-admission for a delayed-interval cholecystectomy. This often leads to multiple interim re-admissions as an emergency with gallstone-related complications.5

In 2007, The Royal College of Surgeons of England6 supported the separation of emergency and elective workloads to maintain and improve standards in surgical care. Creating a dedicated ‘emergency team’, linked with a ‘Surgeon of the Week’ provide both continuity of care for patients and improved training for surgeons and supporting staff. University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) introduced a rota in September 2007 where one named consultant surgeon becomes the ‘Surgeon of the Week (SoW)’ for six out of seven days during the daytime (8am – 6pm); other consultant colleagues cover the on-call duties overnight (6pm – 8am next day) and the planned emergency list the following morning (9am – 1pm). The aim of this study was to examine the impact of the implementation of the SoW model on the number of early LCs performed and the efficiency of the emergency theatre activity in our hospital. This study also looked into its implications on specialist registrar training for early LC, and the financial impact to the hospital.

This prospective study was carried out at UHNS, Stoke-on-Trent, UK, a hospital serving a population of 550,000. Ten consultant general surgeons (five upper gastrointestinal, one breast/colorectal and four colorectal) take part in the on-call rota for general surgery. In addition, three vascular/general consultant surgeons also participate in the on-call rota for general surgery. Before September 2007, each consultant surgeon was on call for 24 h, often also having elective responsibilities at the same time. The SoW rota (Table 1) was introduced in September 2007. Each consultant gastrointestinal/general surgeon is ‘SoW’ every tenth week and is on call for six out of seven days during the daytime from Friday 8am until Thursday 8am. The SoW has responsibilities for the emergency theatres during this week, but a different colleague is allocated to each morning emergency session to enable the SoW to carry out a full ward-round of all emergency admissions. The vascular consultant surgeon does 24 h only from 8am on Thursday till 8am on Friday including emergency theatre list on Thursday from 1pm till 6pm every third week. Each of the ten consultants has a separate night on-call rota, which also covers weekends. Any patient requiring emergency surgery overnight (i.e. those with life- or limb-threatening conditions) are handed back to the SoW consultant the following morning.

Table

Table 1 The ‘Surgeon of the Week (SoW)’ model at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent

Table 1 The ‘Surgeon of the Week (SoW)’ model at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent

8am – 1pm 1pm – 6pm 6pm – 8am (next day)



On-call round (+ surgical emergencies) Emergency OT list Emergency OT list (+ surgical emergencies) Emergency OT list (+ surgical emergencies)
Friday Handover from previous + start of new SoW consultant Vascular consultant SoW consultant Consultant surgeon – not the same as SoW consultant; Mon–Thurs nights, one consultant surgeon covering each night; Fri–Sun nights, one consultant surgeon covering weekend nights
Saturday SoW consultant SoW consultant SoW consultant
Sunday SoW consultant SoW consultant SoW consultant
Monday SoW consultant Consultant surgeon – different colleague SoW consultant
Tuesday SoW consultant Consultant surgeon – different colleague SoW consultant
Wednesday SoW consultant Consultant surgeon – different colleague SoW consultant
Thursday SoW consultant – end of take but patients remain under him till Fri am handover Consultant surgeon – different colleague Vascular consultant Vascular consultant
Vascular consultant starts take at 8am for 24 h for surgical emergencies

Demographic data, admission and discharge dates, complications, conversions to an open operation and deaths were collected for all patients who underwent early laparoscopic cholecystectomies between 1 January 2007 and 31 May 2008 (excluding the month of September 2007). The month of September was excluded as the SoW rota was being introduced in that month and may not have represented true work carried out in the hospital. For ease of comparison, patients were divided into Group A representing before introduction of SoW (1 January 2007 to 30 August 2007) and Group B representing after introduction of SoW (1 October 2007 to 31 May 2008). The total numbers of operations performed in the emergency theatre list in the two groups were also calculated.

Statistical analysis

The chi-square test was used to compare the data in both the tables. SPSS v.16.0 statistical software (SPSS, Chicago, IL, USA) was used. Significance was defined as a P-value less than 0.05.

Impact on emergency theatre activity

A total of 1361 emergency operations were performed on the emergency theatre list in the 8 months prior to the introduction of SoW (Group A), of which 951 were general surgical procedures (Table 2). After SoW (Group B), the numbers of emergency procedures were 1537, of which 1138 were general surgical operations. There was an increase of 187 general surgical operations after introduction of SoW which was significant (P = 0.013; Table 2). The number of emergency operations performed for other surgical specialities were almost equal (410 vs 399) in the two groups.

Table

Table 2 The emergency OT activity

Table 2 The emergency OT activity

Group A (before SoW) Group B (after SoW) P-value
Total operations 1361 1537
General surgery (early LC) 951 (45) 1138 (118) 0.013 (< 0.001)
Other specialties 410 399
 Gynaecology 163 158
 Plastic surgery 84 83
 ENT 65 64
 Maxillofacial surgery 68 55
 Urology 30 38
 Orthopaedic surgery 0 1
Impact on early laparoscopic cholecystectomy service

Before introduction of the SoW rota, 45 early LCs were performed. This increased to 118 after SoW which was significant (P < 0.001; Table 2). Median age in group A was 44 years (range, 23–79 years) and that in group B was 47 years (range, 18–94 years). There was no significant difference in age or sex distribution in the two groups. In group A, one patient required conversion, with no postoperative complications. In group B, two patients developed superficial port-site infection, two had an intra-abdominal collection, one required conversion and one underwent re-operation for small bowel obstruction. There were no bile duct injuries or deaths in either group. The median interval between emergency admission and surgery were equal in the two groups. Postoperative and total hospital stays were similar with no significant difference in the two groups. Table 3 summarises the results in the two groups.

Table

Table 3 Results for early LC before and after SoW

Table 3 Results for early LC before and after SoW

Group A (before SoW) Group B (afterSoW) P-value
Total number: 45 118
Age (years) median (range) 44 (23–79) 47 (18–94) n.s.
Sex distribution 37 F, 8 M 93 F, 25 M n.s.
Conversion to open 1 1 n.s.
Complications 0 5 n.s.
Mortality 0 0 n.s.
Interval between emergency admission and surgery (days) median (range) 2 (1–7) 2 (1–9) n.s.
Postoperative hospital stay (days) median (range) 2 (1–14) 1 (1–16) n.s.
Total hospital stay (days) median (range) 4 (2–16) 3 (2–22) n.s.
Trainees supervised operations 10 (22%) 35 (30%) n.s.

n.s., not significant.

Impact on training

During the 8-month period prior to SOW rota (Group A), the number of early LCs performed by surgical trainees was 10 (22%). Following the introduction of SOW rota (Group B), the number of LCs performed by surgical trainees was 35 (30%; not significant; Table 3).

Early laparoscopic cholecystectomy for acute gallstone disease is recommended on the basis of randomized clinical trials (RCTs)710 and several meta-analyses,1,2,11. A further potential benefit of early laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the avoidance of failed conservative treatment, which often leads to multiple interim re-admissions. In Taunton,5 28.5% of patients were re-admitted as emergencies with gallstone-related complications, whilst on a waiting list for surgery after having had an admission with acute cholecystitis. The authors concluded that all patients admitted as an emergency with symptomatic gallstones should be offered early cholecystectomy. This has also been recommended by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.12

Despite increasing evidence of the benefits and safety of early LC in acute gallstone disease, it is not widely practised in England. Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data shows that only 15% of patients underwent cholecystectomy during the first emergency admission with acute gallbladder disease between April 2003 and March 2004.13 Although this may be due to a lack of emergency theatre time, there may also have been a shortage of experienced laparoscopic biliary surgeons in the past. There is also a perceived view among some theatre staff and anaesthetists that LC should be regarded as a routine procedure. With increased awareness, education and training, the percentage of patients undergoing cholecystectomy during the first emergency admission with acute gallbladder disease can be increased. On the other hand, there are potential issues of availability of operating time in the emergency theatres as more urgent life- and limb-threatening operations taking priority over early cholecystectomy leading to repeated cancellations.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England6 supports the separation of emergency and elective work-loads to maintain and improve standards in surgical care. There are a number of models proposed for separating emergency and elective surgical care. There is no universal solution and local circumstances will dictate the best method of service delivery. In UHNS, the SoW system assures faster access to senior surgical opinion for the assessment and treatment of surgical emergencies. Shift pattern working of junior doctors because of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) has the potential for interrupting continuity of care, delaying the treatment of the patient and introducing errors of communication. The SoW model also provides better continuity of care for patients through a consultant-led emergency team.

We acknowledge that even with increased numbers of early LCs, there are still patients who are unable to have early surgery. Patients with resolving acute cholecystitis take a lower clinical priority on the emergency list and may incur long periods of delay. All patients are fully informed of this before booking for surgery. Anyone not willing to wait were discharged after conservative management and readmitted for delayed-interval cholecystectomy.

It has been suggested in an earlier study14 that a 12-h urgent theatre facility can be seen as analogous to the ‘trauma’ theatre where semi-emergency urgent cases, such as patients with acute cholecystitis and biliary pancreatitis can be dealt with. The introduction of a specialist team specialising in the management of acute gallbladder disease in Portsmouth15,16 lead to an increase in the early cholecystectomy rate at index admission. However, in our study, only separating emergency from elective surgical care with introduction of SOW made a significant difference in the number of early LC performed safely.

Financial impact

The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement12 showed that up to £190 per patient can be saved if acute biliary patients had early LC, based on an acute trust performing 300 laparoscopic cholecystectomies per year. Based on these estimates, our trust potentially saved £30,970 during the total period with almost tripling of the savings after introduction of the SOW.

This study has demonstrated an increase in the efficiency of the emergency theatre following implementation of the SoW model in our hospital. It is possible to carry out early LC in an increased proportion of patients on their index admission without extra morbidity. We recommend the introduction of a suitable emergency surgical consultant on-call model separating emergency and elective surgical care depending on local circumstances. This can lead to significant cost savings and reduce re-admissions with recurrent morbidity.

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