Results of the Anaesthesia and Critical Care COVID Activity Survey

The College has released the results of the first round of the Health Services Research Centre (HSRC) Anaesthesia and Critical Care COVID Activity Survey. The survey, led by Dr Emira Kursumovic and the HSRC team, looks at the effects of COVID-19 on hospital activity and workforce pressures in perioperative and critical care settings and will record results over six-months.

Encouragingly, the response to the first survey conducted during the month of October before national lockdown, received a 64 per cent response rate and the College and HSRC would like to thank all contributors. Respondents were asked to use a ‘traffic light’ system to rate how their hospital or trust was dealing with the additional pressures of COVID-19 with green, functioning adequately, orange, struggling to function and red, signalling that the hospital or trust could not function normally. The survey found that in October around a third of hospitals were struggling or unable to function normally with staff and space being the greatest challenges. Fewer than half of all hospitals were functioning adequately with sufficient staff numbers, adequate space, equipment and systems. There is wide variation in the degree of organisational stress reported across different regions.

Overall, surgical activity has been reduced by 27 per cent compared to the same time last year. This is equivalent to almost 5000 operations not taking place each day. If extended over a year, this would equate to a loss of approximately one million NHS operations. Paediatric surgery is most significantly affected, followed by non-cancer elective surgery, cancer surgery and emergencies.

The results of the survey also showed that more than half of all hospitals are using external sites to support their lower COVID-19 risk surgery, as one in six theatres are currently closed. Of the theatres that are open, productivity is significantly affected, with almost half reporting running at less than 75 per cent of normal activity levels.

Anaesthetists are resilient and sickness rates are low. However, including all clinicians away from patient-facing anaesthetic work (due to shielding, COVID-19 related sickness, self-isolation or quarantine or redeployment to ICU), it is estimated that anaesthetic departments have seven per cent fewer staff. Most absences are due to staff being redeployed to ICUs, where full time staffing levels have been increased by approximately 23 per cent.

Dr Tim Cook, RCoA Director of National Audit Projects, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Royal United Hospital, Bath said:

“The first round of results provides rich data and offers a clear picture of the challenges facing surgical departments across the country.  The second survey will be available shortly and the College would like to encourage all hospitals and trusts to take part, particularly those in areas of high COVID-19 activity.”