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Day Surgery Unit celebrates 30 years of innovation

Since the opening of the West Suffolk Hospital’s Day Surgery Unit on 18 April 1994, west Suffolk patients have benefitted from innovative and high-quality care. Over the last 30 years, the unit has continued to adapt and transform; pushed forward by its expert and dedicated team.

The Day Surgery Unit (DSU) is a stand-alone facility specially designed to provide efficient and high-quality care for those patients that require a surgical procedure but do not need overnight care.

Established at a time where day surgery was a relatively new concept, there were only a handful of units operating across the country. Since then, the DSU has grown and developed so it now carries out a wide variety of procedures on patients with often complex conditions. This has been made possible by expert staff, and medical advancements, according to Dr Nigel Penfold, who was clinical director when the unit first opened. Dr Penfold said: “The unit was launched in a very well-planned and holistic manner, which meant we were able to successfully build a culture which our colleagues felt confident to work in, but more importantly, that our patients felt safe to be treated in.”

Dr Penfold, who continues to work as a consultant anaesthetist in the DSU, continued: “We have seen advances in anaesthesia and surgical techniques in the last 30 years which means day surgery is the best option for many more patients than when we started. Over the years, we have implemented these quickly, made possible by a long-serving multidisciplinary team with a can-do attitude that work together to continually improve, so more patients can benefit from this surgical model of care.”

By implementing these innovative changes over the last three decades, the team can provide more complex surgeries, such as laparoscopic cholecystectomies and laparoscopic gynaecological procedures, as well as general orthopaedic and emergency orthopaedic procedures – taking pressure off the hospital’s main theatres. Additionally, the team can perform these procedures on patients that previously would not have been able to access day surgery, such as older patients, those with a BMI of more than 30, diabetes, or who live further afield.

Maria Foster-Clarke, senior staff nurse at the DSU who joined in 1994, said: “While there have been innovations in the procedures that are carried out, the DSU is also unique in that we use nurse-led discharge. This means our nurses can make the call on when a patient is ready to go home so they can get back to where they feel most comfortable more quickly, improving their experience of care and how well they recover.”

Maria continued: “While our patients aren’t with us long, we pay special attention to the quality of the care they receive. Thorough pre-assessments are conducted so patients are prepared for and have everything they need upon discharge and know what’s about to happen, which reduces any anxiety they have. As a DSU team, we also focus on ensuring we are flexible, adaptable and experts in building rapport with our patients – which is so important for providing high quality care and a prerequisite for anyone looking at working in this environment.”

The DSU itself has also expanded over the years. Opening with two theatres and also facilities to bring community dental services into a safer hospital setting, it now boasts a treatment room and five theatres, with one being used for the Trust’s Eye Treatment Centre. The expansion of its facilities and the types of surgeries it completes means that more procedures are taking place than ever before, helping to reduce waiting times for patients and ensuring they get the right care, at the right time, and in the right place.

One of the DSU managers, Jemma Morris, who started in the unit in 1997, described what it has been like to work there: “Everyone is involved in making changes that improve patient care. We encourage and support our surgeons to innovate, which has led to a larger number and wider variety of procedures being carried out, especially on those that would not have had access to this option before.

“I’ve been here for a long time, and so have many others, which goes to show that it’s a great place to work. It feels good to know that we provide excellent care for our patients – which they so often compliment.”

Looking forward, the DSU is working to implement awake shoulder surgery – a type of keyhole procedure for checking and repairing the joint – which isn’t widely accessible as a day surgery option under local anaesthetic. They are also hoping to implement laminar flow theatres (an air flow system which replaces the air inside the theatre 300 times an hour) so that orthopaedic procedures such as ACL repair can be conducted.

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