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1 February 2023

Blog by Janelle Holmes, Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (WUTH)

Janelle Holmes, Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (WUTH)

We were delighted to open the new Cheshire and Merseyside Surgical Centre as a major step forward in addressing the backlog of surgery caused by the pandemic.

During the busiest period for hospitals this winter, this major new development has helped to reduce the impact of the significant acute hospital pressures on elective care. In its first three months, 400 patients have undergone surgery in the new theatres.

The centre will make a huge difference to those across the region who have been waiting for surgery and I am delighted that it will also greatly improve the care experience for patients.

The surgery hub project is an exemplar of working in an integrated way across the NHS in Cheshire and Merseyside. It also fits with a national strategy to make sure that surgery hubs and capacity are protected for elective care and reducing waiting lists.

The Cheshire and Merseyside Surgery Centre adds to the £30m-plus urgent care investment from the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care that WUTH was successful in bidding for. 

WUTH is building a new Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre at Arrowe Park Hospital at a cost of around £30m and the surgery hub at our Clatterbridge Health Park   represents a further £25m-plus investment for the Trust.

In making the case for surgery hubs that are protected from urgent (non-elective) demand and dedicated to elective procedures, the Royal College of Surgeons of England recently published a paper* jointly with the Strategy Unit (an NHS research organisation). This provided data analysis to show the extent to which peaks of COVID-19 and regular winter pressures have negatively affected elective (planned) surgery. This was found to be due to the competition for pooled elective and emergency care resources such as beds, staff and diagnostics.

By reducing elective activity, resources are freed up for emergency and urgent (non-elective) patients, whose needs are generally more acute and pressing. A key strategy to avoid the cancellation of elective activity involves greater physical separation of the resources that support elective and emergency patients – ie the creation of surgical hubs.

The new Cheshire and Merseyside Surgery Centre, which opened its doors in November 2022 at Clatterbridge Health Park has seen the completion of its first phase with two brand new theatres. This state-of-the-art facility was developed to treat solely patients awaiting elective or planned surgery and will cater for patients across Cheshire and Merseyside.

Upon completion of phase two, the modular facility will have four 'ultra clean air' theatres, which improve infection prevention and control, and an 18 bedded recovery to support the site’s ten theatres.

Greener by design

Caption: Janelle Holmes, left, with some of the Cheshire and Merseyside Surgical Centre team

The innovative development saw the theatres created as modular buildings, meaning they were largely pre-built before arriving on site, reducing time for completion and limiting disruption to services. This is also 'greener by design' as it reduces construction site traffic.

The design of the modular build has had clinical engagement from concept to delivery, with a focus on patient experience, efficient throughput and future resilience. In keeping with the trust's net zero carbon ambitions, the new theatres have technology built in to place the theatres in idle mode when not in use, reducing the energy draw and the theatres will not have nitrous oxide - commonly used in anaesthetics – also reducing the carbon footprint.

During the planning phase the design of the centre was rotated by 90 degrees to enable it to be built on to the existing site without compromising clinical services. It allowed a 12 bedded recovery ward, which is also used by the original theatres at Clatterbridge Hospital, to be increased to 18 beds under phase two of the development, while keeping it as one ward.  This maintained patient care, while keeping staffing numbers and costs at an efficient level. In addition, it meant that all theatres at the hospital site could be co-located.

The plant room, which services the theatres, is located on the roof, so it does not take up any valuable ground space required for future expansion.  As it is based on a greenfield site, having a rooftop plantroom also minimises noise pollution and is more aesthetically pleasing.

Following completion of both phases in an investment of over £25m, the centre will treat around 6,000 patients each year across Cheshire and Merseyside.

The Cheshire and Merseyside Surgical Centre is providing quicker access to surgery and outpatient procedures for thousands of patients – reducing waiting lists, improving patient experience and, most importantly, improving people's outcomes.

Read more and watch a video on the WUTH website.

*The case for surgical hubs — Royal College of Surgeons (rcseng.ac.uk)

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