• Pilot involving thousands of patients at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust reduced time in hospital after hip operations
  • Trust’s chief operating officer says hundreds of patients had elective orthopaedic work cancelled before trial

One of the country’s biggest rural trusts has cut patients’ length of stay in hospital and improved waiting times by separating elective orthopaedic work from trauma cases, according to the results of a pilot project.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust was one of eight trusts in the country to trial hot and cold sites for orthopaedic work, which was part of the Getting It Right First Time initiative – a national clinical programme aimed at helping trusts tackle unwarranted variation in how services are delivered.

Analysis of the trial at ULHT found waiting times for first appointments and surgery were reducing, with “most patients now waiting within the recommended 18 weeks”. According to trust board papers, current referral to treatment time within the 18-week target is 84.48 per cent and has improved for the second month running in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, patients who had full hip replacements reduced their days in hospital from an average of 3.6 before the trial to 2.5 afterwards.

ULHT started the pilot in August 2018. From then until June 2019, it treated 1,862 elective patients and 2,612 day case patients under the trial. Most patients requiring urgent treatment for trauma were treated at hot sites at Lincoln County Hospital and Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, while those needing elective orthopaedic surgery went to cold sites at Grantham and District Hospital and County Hospital Louth.

However, the board papers for the August meeting also noted “improvement in waiting times and cancellations had slowed, but improvements already seen were being sustained”. The papers added the trust was “repatriating” some of the work now waiting times were reducing. 

Mark Brassington, chief operating officer at United Lincolnshire Hospitals, said taking part in the GIRFT trial had “massively improved the service for our patients”.

“Before the trial, busy periods leading to bed pressures in our hospitals meant that around 900 patients each year had their elective orthopaedic surgery cancelled,” Mr Brassington said.

He added: “Since the trial began the majority of elective patients have been treated at Grantham Hospital and not one of them have had their surgery cancelled due to bed pressures.”

Tim Briggs, chair of GIRFT and an orthopaedic surgeon, said the ULHT trial clearly shows an “improved experience” for patients.

“We know that separating elective orthopaedic surgery from trauma provides better quality outcomes for both groups of patients,” Professor Briggs said.

ULHT was recently awarded £21.3m to build new urgent and emergency care zones in Boston Hospital. However, at the end of last year, the Care Quality Commission raised concerns children were coming to harm at the hospital because of the standard of care given.