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Trusts urged to review spinal surgery practice to reduce cases of paralysis and save NHS £27m

Up to £27m could be saved by the NHS improving its spinal surgery services as the health service spends millions on compensation for patients given delayed treatment, a government report has found.

Getting It Right First Time’s (GIRFT) report revealed that £27m could be saved in efficiencies by improving “unacceptable” standards and inefficiencies, particularly cancelled operations and delayed discharges from hospitals.

The report published today said professional standards “were not currently being met, with potentially life-changing impacts on patients,” which, it noted, was concerning – considering that £100m is roughly spent each year by the NHS on clinical negligence payments for spinal injuries.

The spinal surgery national report warned that delays to MRI scanning for patients with a suspected spinal emergency known as cauda equina syndrome can lead to limb paralysis, bowel and bladder paralysis, and incontinence.

With lower back or radicular pain being the primary cause of disability in the UK, GIRFT also strongly recommended investing in longer-term physical and psychological rehabilitation programmes over short-term pain relief injections.

It found that, despite NICE guidance, a significant number of NHS patients are still receiving injections of anaesthetic or steroids to block pain, costing the NHS £10.5m for procedures “which have limited clinical value.”

The report’s author, Mike Hutton of Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, said: “During my visits, I have been repeatedly struck by the passionate commitment of the clinical staff towards the NHS as a force for good in society.

“They do so, however, under significant increasing demand on their services and financial constraints.”

GIRFT’s report makes 22 recommendations to improve the quality of spinal surgery services, improve outcomes and save the NHS £27m.

This includes implementing a system of referring patients without delay to 24-hour MRI scanning in all hospitals, and ensuring all major trauma centres have a round-the-clock ability to stabilise and decompress the spine for patients with fractured and dislocated spines.

Health minister Stephen Hammond commented: “This is a significant step forward in the way the NHS cares for people living with spinal conditions, focusing on rehabilitation rather than just relief to improve patient experience and lead to better treatment outcomes.

“These clinically-endorsed recommendations could have a major beneficial impact on the quality of life for tens of thousands of patients a year.”

Kathy McLean of NHS Improvement said the recommendations in the report will benefit patients and free up funds, and encourage trusts to review their own practice without delay.

Image credit - Shidlovski


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