The growing numbers of people expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the UK in the years ahead presents a pressing challenge. The NHS Cancer Plan 2000 set targets for wait times, and while the COVID-19 pandemic created setbacks, NHS trusts across England have been working diligently to tackle waiting lists and improve patient care. Innovative partnerships between NHS trusts and industry have emerged as a powerful tool to support these efforts. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, renowned for its 300-year legacy of innovation, has recently made significant strides in cancer surgery, leveraging cutting-edge technologies and collaborative initiatives to tackle waiting lists and transform patient care.
Tackling Waiting Lists with Innovative Approaches
While waiting lists for elective surgery suffered during the pandemic, hospital trusts across England have been working hard to reduce backlogs over the past few years, with an “immense amount of work” being undertaken to improve capacity. New figures show that the number of people waiting over 18 months for NHS care has fallen by more than four fifths since the peak.
Across London, teams have been using innovative methods to tackle the elective backlog, such as High Intensity Theatre (HIT) lists focusing on one type of surgical procedure, surgical hubs and super weekend theatres, along with the help of cutting-edge robotic technology and safer X-ray scanners. At the heart of these efforts are trusts like Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, who are deploying innovative partnerships and solutions to address some of the real-time challenges that healthcare organisations face today.
With an increasing number of external partners and a growing innovation team, the trust recently completed their super-surgery weekend for endometriosis treatment, which saw specialists perform a remarkable 24 surgical procedures over one weekend, supported by a team of more than 20 members of staff. Focusing on one type of surgery and with the latest robotic equipment, the team completed eight times the number of procedures usually performed in one week.
The trust is using High Intensity Theatre (HIT) lists which focus on one procedure at a time and deploys the latest robotic innovation. The high number of surgical procedures is also made possible by deploying newly developed, more efficient processes, including a new theatre scheduling software provided via its innovative Care Coordination Solution.
This digital solution, designed in partnership with industry, empowers operations teams, consultants, surgeons, and other clinicians to efficiently manage the surgical waiting list. Surgeons now have instant access to comprehensive patient information, enabling them to make informed decisions and streamline care pathways. The implementation of this solution has yielded tangible benefits, with theatre utilisation increasing from 85% to an impressive 95%. It’s also allowed a reduction in their overall surgical waiting lists really meaningfully by about 10% overall. This enhancement in efficiency translates into faster access to surgeries, ultimately improving patient experiences and outcomes.
Dr Jeffrey Ahmed, Consultant Gynaecologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: “The most innovative thing that I’ve been a part of here at Chelsea in the NHS recently has been our Digital Innovations. We have partnered with external agencies over the past couple of years to produce leading digital innovation in terms of how we can manage our patients from the moment that they come into the hospital until we discharge them.
“A good example of that is our Care Coordination solution which we developed in partnership with industry externally here at Chelsea, and we’ve had real success with it. That kind of collaboration and innovative thinking allowed us to get this really innovative solution that’s really delivering for patients and for the Trust.”
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust boasts a rich history of innovation, dating back to its establishment as the world's first voluntary hospital in 1719. Throughout the years, the Trust has continuously pushed the boundaries of medical advancements, with a long list of hospital "firsts" in emergency care, brain tumour extraction, breast cancer chemotherapy, HIV diagnosis, and anaesthetics
The trust – which cares for nearly 2,000 new cancer patients each year and carries out hundreds of operations annually – celebrated its 300-year anniversary earlier this year.
Today they remain committed to designing, evaluating and embedding new technologies and innovations that transform operational efficiency and, critically, patient care and experience. Alongside this, the trust has embraced a commitment to extending its support beyond borders, using their expertise in teaching and research to develop state-of-the-art training programme for surgeons in countries such as Nigeria. This exceptional initiative serves as a prime example of the Trust's commitment to share knowledge and foster collaborations not only with industry partners but also with hospitals worldwide, helping to advance and elevate the standards of patient care globally.
Dr Jeffrey adds: “The great thing I’d say about innovation in the NHS is that there are hotspots of really ripe innovation happening all across the NHS. I think we’ve got loads of experience here in the NHS to be able to offer out to other hospitals around the world.”
In the face of mounting challenges posed by increasing cancer diagnoses and waiting lists, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust's groundbreaking initiatives in cancer surgery highlight the transformative potential of collaboration and innovation. By harnessing the power of digital innovation, the Trust has significantly reduced waiting times and improved theatre utilisation, ultimately enhancing patient care.
In this short video, Dr Ahmed shares his first-hand experiences and insights into the Trust's approach to innovation, collaborative partnerships and the remarkable impact they have made on patient care and surgery.