When we consider having ‘elective’ (i.e. non-emergency) surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement, we often put a lot of thought and planning into who will conduct the procedure, where it will take place, when the best time would be and similar considerations. Indeed, helping with those decisions is the primary aim of our website.

However, often less thought is given to what happens after your hospital stay. This can be very practical things such as how you will get home – depending on the surgery driving may not be an option – but also how to deal with more emotional reactions.

Leaving the hospital after undergoing surgery is a significant milestone in a patient's recovery journey. While it may be an exciting moment, it is crucial to careful consider what happens once the hospital discharges you and what happens next if you are to make the most comfortable and successful recovery.

This article aims to highlight the essential things you need to think about before leaving the hospital after an operation, ensuring a smooth transition to the next phase of your recovery.

1. Your home

Before you begin your hospital stay, it’s a good idea to carry out a ‘needs assessment’ of your own home to ensure it is safe and accessible for your post-operative needs. Remove any potential hazards, rearrange furniture if necessary, and consider any modifications required for mobility limitations.

It’s also a good idea to stock up on essential items such as everyday pain relief, comfortable clothing, and nutritious food to help facilitate a smooth recovery at home.

2. The length of your hospital stay

Although the amount of time you spend in hospital will vary depending on the procedure you are undergoing, your condition and some other factors, it’s important to have some idea of your likely ‘length of stay’ so that you can be properly prepared.

Our website displays the typical number of nights you might have to stay on the consultant profiles and we also publish ‘data sheets’ with more information, but this is something to ask your healthcare team about before you are admitted.

3. Transport arrangements

Coordinate transport plans well in advance to ensure a safe and comfortable journey back home. If necessary, arrange for a friend, family member, or medical transport service to pick you up from the hospital.

Avoid driving yourself, as anaesthesia and pain medications can impair judgment and reflexes. Some operations, such as knee or hip replacements, may temporarily limit your mobility meaning you aren’t able to drive straightaway.

4. Follow medical instructions

The most important thing is to follow the instructions provided by hospital staff. It’s a good idea to take a note of your medication schedules, wound care procedures, dietary restrictions, and physical activity limitations. It can be easy to be overwhelmed and not take them in otherwise.

You should ensure you understand the medications prescribed to you, including their purpose, dosage, frequency, and potential side effects and ask questions if you aren’t sure. Arrange for a sufficient supply of medications before leaving the hospital for you to take home. Make sure you know how long they are due to last and establish a system for organising and taking them as prescribed.

It is crucial to follow up with a primary care physician or specialist for any medication adjustments or refills. Check if you need to book an appointment with your GP for further medicines.

Depending on the procedure you undergo, you may need to alter your diet or build up gradually to ‘normal’ daily activities. For example, you’ll often have to avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting for a while. Understanding and adhering to these guidelines will help minimise complications and promote healing.

5. Post-operative care and monitoring

You need to have a clear understanding of the signs of any complications or infections that may arise after surgery. Recognising these symptoms – which could include excessive pain, swelling, redness, fever, or abnormal discharge from wounds – is essential. You should report any concerns promptly to your healthcare provider so that any potential issues can be addressed early on.

Know what you can and can’t do in the early days of your recovery, for instance your ability to wash and shower may be limited. For many operations you may not be able to climb stairs, lift heavy objects or drive for a while. Check if any of these apply to you and for how long and when you will know it is safe to begin again.

6. Paying your bill

It is important to know when and how you will be billed. This can vary depending on several factors, including whether you are a ‘self-pay’ or ‘insured’ patient, but you need to know when and how you’ll be expected to pay any bills (including potential excess fees for insurance), especially if this will be before you leave the hospital.

7. Support system

Having a reliable support system in place can be vital during the recovery period. Inform family members, loved ones, friends, or neighbours about your upcoming hospital discharge and discuss your potential care needs.

They may be able to help with household chores, transportation, and emotional support. This can alleviate some of the burden and promote a stress-free recovery.

If there is no-one to help you, you may need to arrange for carers to come in or to find out about support services that are available at least in the short-term.

8. Follow-up appointments

Schedule and prioritise any follow-up appointments with your surgical team, primary care physician, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or other healthcare professionals involved in your aftercare. If you are a self-pay patient, check what is covered in terms of follow up – for example do you need to pay extra for physiotherapy and to what extent, or how many sessions are you entitled to.

These appointments are crucial for monitoring your progress, further wound dressing or removing sutures or staples, reviewing test results, and making any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan. Ensure you have all the necessary contact information and documentation before leaving the hospital.

9. Emotional well-being

It can be overlooked while we concentrate on physical improvements, but leaving the hospital after surgery can be an emotionally challenging experience.

It is natural to experience a range of emotions, including anxiety, fear, or even relief. Take the time to address these feelings and seek emotional support as part of your ongoing care if needed.

As part of your care plan, engage in activities that promote relaxation and mental health, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or hobbies that bring you joy. Contact your healthcare team if you feel you still need extra support.

It may take longer than you expect to feel or see the benefits of your surgery. Your consultant should be able to advise you about this and for some procedures you can look at patient related outcome measures (PROMs) information on our website to find out more.

10. Share your experience

While each and every operation in a very personal experience, sharing information about how it went for you is helpful for others considering similar treatment and for the healthcare providers. You may be asked to complete a patient reported outcomes measures (PROMs) survey. See our article How can PROMs help you as a patient? for more information. We get information from PROMs for several procedures and share that on our website.

We’d also love to hear from you if you have a story you’d like to share (with your permission we might share this with the media or on social media), especially if PHIN has helped you with part of your journey (perhaps selecting your consultant or hospital, or just providing useful information). If you’d like to get in touch, you can do so at: info@phin.org.uk


Preparing to leave the hospital after surgery requires careful planning and consideration. Following the guidance above can help ensure a smoother transition to the recovery phase.

Remember to prioritise self-care, seek emotional support when needed, and allow yourself time to heal and regain strength.

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