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Could maths help improve surgery scheduling in Wales?

26 November 2015

A and E trolley

Cardiff experts to develop a ‘smart’ schedule to help reduce waiting lists and lower the number of cancellations

Researchers from the University have secured a major funding grant to develop mathematical models to assist in the scheduling of surgical procedures in Wales.

The grant will be used to develop a computerised tool to produce ‘smart’ surgery timetables, with the overall aim of reducing waiting lists, lowering the number of cancellations and increasing patient satisfaction.

Almost a quarter-of-a-million pounds has been awarded to the three-year project, which is being funded by Welsh Government.

The research team states that a large proportion of surgical procedures in Wales are cancelled each year, often because of poor scheduling and a lack of beds post-surgery.

Theatre scheduling currently involves a so-called ‘master surgery schedule’, which is manually produced on a weekly basis based on the perceived needs of each speciality in the hospital and the current length of their waiting lists.

The master schedule does not take into account post-surgery requirements for each speciality, such as the availability of beds, which is a crucial component of avoiding patient overflow.

The principal investigator on the project Dr Rhyd Lewis, from the School of Mathematics, said: “Bed requirements for certain specialities may occur in undesirable peaks at various points in the week. These peaks aren’t picked up by hospital staff until the day of, or the day prior, to surgery, which is one of the main reasons why surgical operations have to be cancelled.”

Research conducted by a PhD student at the University has already shown that through better planning and better resource, more beds can be made available after surgery and therefore the number of cancellations can be decreased.

The team will build on this preliminary research as well as incorporating some of their own tried-and-tested methods to create a more robust system.

This will include innovative queueing and timetabling methods that have already been applied in a hospital setting.

“The potential impact of this research is significant and has the potential to be rolled out across Wales and further afield. Fewer operations being cancelled will bring about financial savings, shrinking waiting lists and a better patient experiences,” continued Dr Lewis.

“Furthermore, we are confident that all of this can be achieved at no additional cost to the health service.”

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