New Redbridge hospital theatres will allow for 100 more operations a week

Two new operating theatres at King George Hospital are expected to carry out 100 operations a week, helping to cut down patients’ waiting times.

The new ‘elective surgery hub’ was unveiled at the Redbridge hospital on Friday morning (May 17) – one of eight nationally-accredited surgeries recognised for meeting ‘top clinical standards’.

The £14m expansion will introduce new high-tech equipment for doctors, allowing them to perform surgeries via remote-controlled robotic arms, and double the number of recovery beds.

Surgeons will cover a variety of fields, from orthopedic surgery to soft tissue work.

Of the 68,000 patients on the waiting list, 6,000 require inpatient surgery, according to Barking, Havering, Redbridge University NHS Trust (BHRUT) director Matthew Trainor.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “A hundred more surgeries a week, in that context, is pretty significant.”

A major bonus of the new theatres is that they are more comfortable for patients, he said. He described the sleeker theatres as “beautiful and bright,” compared to some of the “older and darker” rooms elsewhere in the hospital.

He added that, while the trust had been successful in reducing its longest waiting times, it still found itself struggling to “keep pace with demand”.

He said: “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen the amount of emergency surgery we do increase significantly. A lot of the theatres we used for planned care, we’re now having to use for emergencies such as a caesarian sections, and that’s put pressure on the capacity we have for other operations.”

As well as the surgical robots, the hospital has also introduced the Cytosponge, a small camera that can help identify precancerous conditions in the stomach and throat.

Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal, who had attended the ribbon cutting event alongside Ilford MPs Sam Tarry and Wes Streeting, said the extension had been “badly needed”.

Cllr Athwal, who will stand as the Labour candidate for Ilford South at the next election, said: “The innovation of the staff – the fact they planned for it, asked for it, and delivered it on time and on budget – shows the NHS can work.

“That innovation was doctors-led and nurses-led; we have to take on that board. We can’t just use people from outside.”

He added that he was “concerned” about the capacity of King George Hospital, as well as its sister Queen’s Hospital in Romford, and said further expansion should be considered.

He said: “We have to look at the increase in population, which hasn’t been taken into account in the capacity at the two hospitals.

“Getting in is a problem, but once you’re in, the care is there – and that’s a problem experienced by a lot of my residents.”

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health minister, called the trust’s efforts to clear its backlogs “nationally leading”.

He said: “When I think about how to deliver the national NHS reform agenda if I’m the country’s health secretary after the general election, what gives me hope, confidence and optimism is that reform mindset you see in frontline staff.

“I hope residents feel proud that, after years of reading about our trust as a troubled trust and a failing trust, we can now read about it as one of the fastest improving. The best is yet to come – especially if we have a Labour government.”

He added: “My whole reform approach is to learn from the best of the NHS, and take it to the rest of the NHS. We’ve got to take that mindset and clinical leadership to the rest of the health service.”

The trust has been steadily improving its performance since the Covid-19 pandemic. February saw the best performance in A&E services by BHRUT since 2020, though issues with overcrowding still remained.

Steady improvement over 2023 also saw the trust jump from being one of the worst performing in the country to becoming one of the top 25.

Nurses and specialists managed to keep the rate high of four-hour discharges despite 600 more ambulances bringing patients to Queen’s Hospital than in February 2023.

That increase was the largest spike in the entire capital, based on data from the health service.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter