Hospital plans new operating theatres to clear waiting lists for surgery
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Surgeons could be carrying out much-needed knee and hip replacements at four new operating theatres in Swansea Bay next spring.
The “modular” purpose-built theatres are planned at Neath Port Talbot Hospital, where a team of 177 full-time surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and operation practitioners would deal with 7,400 cases per year.
Some patients have been waiting more than two years for orthopaedic procedures – often losing mobility in the process – because their operations were postponed due to winter surges in emergency demand and also the Covid pandemic.
Swansea Bay University Health Board members have approved the additional theatres and will now work with the Welsh Government to secure funding.
Speaking at a health board meeting, chairwoman Emma Woollett described the development as “a bit of a seminal moment”.
She said: “I certainly have a lot of heart-rending letters, as I know does Mark (Hackett, chief executive), so the ability to actually do something significantly positive to address the situation is I think a really important thing for the board to be able to commit to.”
The operating theatres would only deal with planned operations, including spinal ones, with some cases being transferred from Morriston and Singleton hospitals. The net increase in capacity provided would be 4,500 cases per year.
The total inpatient and day case waiting list for orthopaedics in Swansea Bay was 4,907 patients at the end of July.
It is hoped that the theatres could be up and running by April next year, with Ward G at Neath Port Talbot Hospital converted into an orthopaedic outpatient department.
Building and equipping the theatres would cost a lot less than staffing them.
Finance chiefs have estimated workforce costs of £21 million in 2022-23 and just under £19 million the following year.
Mr Hackett said the health board needed to “get the ball rolling” quickly on recruitment, but felt the jobs would be attractive because start and finish times would be set every day and no emergency cases would be brought in.
He said agency and bank staff would be used, as well as new recruits.
“If push comes to shove we would look at international recruitment,” said Mr Hackett.
He added: “Fundamentally our patients need this service. The history to this is we’ve never had sufficient orthopaedic capacity to deal with the demands that this client group ask of us.
“Most of the people on these waiting lists are elderly and they are awaiting knee and hip replacements.
“They are waiting in excess of two years currently.
“We need to do something to support them better than we have been doing in the past decade.”
A small number of orthopaedic patients who needed an intensive care bed because their operation was more complicated would still go to Morriston Hospital.