Out-of-hours surgery - A snapshot in time

E. O'Loughlin, W. J. Smithies, T. B. Corcoran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Anaesthesia in Australia is amongst the safest in the world. This record of safety is under threat from increasing pressures to operate at times of poor human performance, particularly late at night. Our institution has a policy mandating the prioritisation of surgery based on clinical need while minimising the risks associated with afterhours surgery. The policy states that "only Category 1 (urgent, needing immediate surgery) and Category 2 cases which cannot wait until the morning should be done between 2230 and 0800". From 5 March 2007 we performed an eight-week prospective audit of all cases where surgery occurred in this time period. The anaesthetic senior registrar on duty recorded the clinical priority of the case. There were 95 cases commenced between 2230 and 0800 hours during the audit period, of which 28 (30%) were in clear breach of this policy, in some cases delaying urgent surgery. The potential implications of such breaches are significant in the context of worse outcomes for patients undergoing surgery in the after-hours period. When non-urgent cases occupy resources, the capacity of the system to deal with the truly urgent case is significantly impaired. Adequate 'in-hours' resourcing, capacity and appropriate scheduling may be key to maintaining the excellent safety record of anaesthesia. A large study prospectively examining morbidity, error and outcomes of after-hours operating would serve to further elucidate the risk benefit ratio of after-hours operating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1059-1063
Number of pages5
JournalAnaesthesia and Intensive Care
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • After-hours
  • Morbidity
  • Out-of-hours
  • Safety
  • Surgery
  • Urgent

Cite this