How to stop operating theatres from wasting two hours each day

October 25, 2017 • Reading time 2 minutes

What does a good use of a hospital theatre look like? We don’t want surgeons and their teams to work all hours, or stay behind late to get through more work? But nor do we want to see hospital theatres waste two hours a day – a staggering 5,500 operations missed each day in England.

(This is according to research undertaken by NHSI and reported by the BBC today.)

So what can we do?

Three reasons are sighted in the NHSI report for the inefficient use of theatre time:

  1. Operations start later than they should – coordinating people first thing in the morning is difficult
  2. Operations finish earlier than they should – cancellations or DNA’s can mean time goes unused
  3. Scheduling of operating lists is inefficient – knowing how long operations will take in advance is difficult

The team at one of the trusts we are working with have started to look at how they can fix the third problem: safely fit more operations into their theatres without simply ‘overbooking’ operating lists. We’ve been helping them to do this using a tool that we developed called Space Finder.

Space Finder solves the problem by predicting how long operations take to perform. It’s tailored to the doctor, patient, and the operation – for example, it spotted that operations on the right knee tend to be quicker than those on the left knee due to the positioning of the patient relative to the right-handed doctor.

It is very accurate. It’s so accurate that it can spot poor theatre scheduling days in advance so that other patients can safely be booked in for surgery. In its first month of use, it has already managed to help book several additional cases per week, allowing people to have their surgery sooner than expected with no additional cost to the hospital – a great result for the early stages of the work.

This has been made possible by harnessing years of data from previous surgery. Using machine learning (a type of artificial intelligence), Space Finder learns from this data and predicts operating times. The more operations that take place, the more Space Finder learns and the better it predicts.

The demands placed on the health sector at the moment mean that using hospital theatres more effectively has to be a priority. So using tools like Space Finder will become critical. The human cost of not using these tools is simply too high.


Edge Health are a specialist UK healthcare analytics consultancy that use data and insights to improve the delivery of health and care services, so that better outcomes can be delivered more efficiently.