The NHS constitution for England states that everyone is entitled to receive elective surgery within 18 weeks of GP referral. This is a target that the NHS aspires to, without always meeting it. Any surgical procedure that is not a medical emergency is elective surgery. It’s surgery that is planned in advance, regardless of the long-term seriousness of the condition.
There are three main categories of surgery in the NHS:
- Emergency surgery must be carried out right away to avoid potential death. It might include a situation such as heavy internal bleeding in the patient.
- Urgent surgery is usually carried out on the same day as the diagnosis, in situations where the patient is in stable condition. Appendix removal is a typical example of this case.
- Elective surgery does not necessarily relate to a trivial medical condition, but is applied to any non-urgent situation. Examples include cosmetic surgery, hernia surgery, cataract surgery, mastectomy, knee or hip replacement and kidney donations from living donors.
Most hospital surgeries are defined as elective. Patients expecting this type of surgery are added to a list and generally wait their turn in strict order. Conditions that suddenly worsen and become life threatening are redefined as urgent or emergency surgeries and carried out quickly.
Preparing for an Elective Procedure
Whilst waiting for elective surgery it’s useful to know various things ahead of the big day. Most of the relevant details will be relayed by letter, such as what food or drinks should be consumed just prior to the operation, what medications can be taken, whether transportation from the hospital is needed, and how long recovery time is likely to be.
Patients should always let the hospital know as early as possible if elective surgery is to be cancelled, whether through a change of mind or an unavoidable event. Doing so reduces strain on the NHS waiting list and enables operations to be efficiently rescheduled.