A guide to return to theatre and how you can use this information to inform discussions with your consultant.

What is a return to theatre?

A return to theatre occurs when a patient develops complications following an operation and has to go back to surgery unexpectedly.

On a hospital’s profile, you will see two numbers published which are based on the latest 12 months of information provided by hospitals:

  • the total number of returns to theatre and
  • the rate of returns to theatre for every 1,000 patients

Hospitals treating a large number of complex patients may have a higher number of returns to theatre but could have a lower rate. Looking at the rate as well as the count makes it easier to compare hospitals of different sizes.

What can this tell you about a hospital?

Reporting when a patient has an unexpected return to theatre is a good sign of commitment from a hospital to understanding and improving their patient care. If your preferred hospital is missing this information, it will be made clear on their profile, and you may want to ask them to clarify why.

All hospitals closely monitor their patients post-surgery to ensure that if any issues do arise, they can intervene quickly.

If a hospital has a high rate of returns to theatre it can be for several reasons. It could be because a hospital tends to treat patients who have serious underlying health conditions which can result in complications post-surgery, or it could be due to an infection developing where the patient had the surgery originally.

Your checklist

  1. Check whether your hospital is reporting their returns to theatre. If they aren’t what does this mean about the hospital’s processes and management?
  2. Compare the rate of return to theatre across different hospitals. If a hospital has a high rate, it could be because of the patients they tend to treat.
  3. Ask questions. Use the information from our website to guide your conversations with a hospital or consultant.

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