A recent study has put forth the picture that the summer heatwave of 2022 resulted in a fifth of UK hospitals being compelled to cancel surgeries during the three days when the temperatures went up alarmingly. These findings were published in the letter to British Journal of Surgery with the research being supported by National Institute of Health Research, Global Health Research Unit Grant as well as the GreenSurg Collaborative which happens to be led by the University of Birmingham researchers.
The findings state that had the temperature surge continued, a further third of hospitals would have had to cancel surgeries. This is because the NHS infrastructure does not have the capacity to withstand dangerously high temperatures. The study team surveyed surgeons, anaesthetists as well as critical care doctors who worked between the heatwave of 16th and 19th July last year. The research went on to receive 271 responses from across 140 UK hospitals, with one in every five respondents, i.e., approximately 18.5%, stating that the heatwave did result in the elective surgery getting cancelled. More than a third, i.e., 35.1%, suggested that had the heatwave continued, the cancellations would have been even more likely to take place.
The elements that contributed to heatwave-related cancellations included a shortage of staff, with 35.8% of respondents agreeing, unsafe operating room environments at 30.3%, as well as bed shortages at 22.1%.
Surgical devices were poorly prepared for heatwaves, with ambient temperatures being uncontrollable across 41% of the operating rooms.
Most of the hospitals that responded—in fact 85% of them—did not have the summer pressure plans so as to maintain elective surgical safety as well as capacity. More than a third of the respondents—35.4% to be precise—reported making adaptations so as to maintain the routine surgical procedure throughout the heatwave.
The co-author of the study, Mr. James Glasbey, who happens to be an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow- Global Surgery at the University of Birmingham, said that even short heat waves are likely to result in the widespread disruption of surgical services across the UK. The likelihood of extreme weather events in the country is indeed growing, and no wonder one could find themselves squeezed between both a winter and a summer stress situation in the coming years. As hospitals go on to tackle COVID surgery backlogs, they must also consider how to safeguard themselves against further climate change-related challenges when it comes to the delivery of surgical services.
This ought to be included when it comes to the preparation of summer pressure plans so as to enhance the elective surgery services resilience.
The researchers further discovered that the hospitals went on to adopt numerous strategies all throughout the heatwave to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures among surgical patients. These strategies included delaying the discharge of high-risk patients, changing the surgical team, picking low-risk patients when it came to having surgery, and restricting surgical activity to day scenarios.
Apparently, there were certain hospitals that went on to introduce stretched staff breaks, give extra fluids to admitted patients, and even begin surgeries early in the morning when the temperatures were lower.