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Things to Consider Before Having Surgery

I have been told I may need an operation. Where can I get advice?

The thought of having an operation can be frightening. You may find the pages on the NHS Choices website on having an operation useful. You can also talk to your GP and staff at the hospital about your illness, why an operation is being suggested, and what it means in the longer term.

How can I get a second opinion?

Patients seeking a second opinion should ask for a further referral from their GP who would then write to the hospital to request a consultation with a different surgeon.

See also NHS Choices for guidance on requesting a second opinion.

I'm worried about having an anaesthetic.

It is natural to worry about the whole of an operation including the anaesthetic. The purpose of having an anaesthetic is to stop you feeling pain and other sensations. Anaesthesia can be given in different ways and does not always make you unconscious.

Local anaesthesia involves numbing a small part of your body. You stay conscious but free from pain.

Regional anaesthesia involves injections that numb a larger or deeper part of the body. You stay conscious but free from pain.

General anaesthesia gives a state of controlled unconsciousness. It is essential for some operations. You are unconscious and feel nothing.

If you want to find out more about having an anaesthetic, you can find a wide range of information on the Royal College of Anaesthetists website.

How long will I have to wait for my operation?

Waiting times vary depending on the types of surgery. Your GP will be able to give you information on how long you are likely to have to wait in your local area and whether some hospitals might be able to see you quicker than others.

The government has set maximum targets for waiting times. If you have to wait longer than the target time, or if your operation is cancelled and the hospital cannot offer an alternative date within a set time, it may be possible to receive treatment, paid for by the NHS, in a private hospital or abroad. It is a good idea to keep in contact with your GP if you are waiting for an operation, to discuss any options and to report any changes in your condition.

You can find further information on waiting times on the NHS Choices website.

The following websites offer waiting list information and, in the case of England, search services by treatment, location and consultant:

How can I access survival rates for certain types of surgery?

The rates of survival for patients who have had certain types of surgery in England can be found on the NHS Choices website. NHS England, with assistance from the College and surgical specialty associations, has published data on the outcomes of individual surgeons for some surgical procedures.

The initiative means that people undergoing certain surgical procedures can look up their surgeon and unit on the NHS Choices website. With this service, they can see how many similar operations they have performed in the past year and how they compare with others on a number of different measures or ‘indicators.’

Until June 2013 only heart surgery patients were able to analyse surgical data in this way. The Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery in Great Britain and Ireland (SCTS) has published information on heart bypass surgery mortality rates by surgeon and units since 2005.

Dr Foster, a service set up in collaboration with the Department of Health, gives information about the availability and performance of local NHS and private healthcare services. Dr Foster aims to help explain what choices you have and how best to use them.

I've been told it is more risky to have an operation if I smoke. Is this true?

A full answer to this question can be found in the following booklet produced by Action on Smoking and Health. Their smoking and surgery advice sets out information on the risk associated with smoking and surgery.

Will I need a blood transfusion?

Operations are carried out in such a way to minimise the amount of blood lost and very few people need a blood transfusion before, during or after their operation. However, some operations do have a higher risk of blood loss, making a blood transfusion more likely to be needed. You should talk to your surgeon or a member of the surgical team before your operation about whether you will need a blood transfusion. Further information about blood transfusions can also be found on the NHS Blood and Transplant website.

What are my rights as a patient?

Patients having surgery have a right to expect a high level of care and be treated with dignity and respect. Patients can also do things themselves to help ensure they receive high quality care. You can find out about your rights as a patient in the NHS, as set out in the NHS Constitution.

I find all the abbreviations that are used confusing.

When people work in an area they tend to use a quick and easy way of referring to things to save time. People often forget that not everyone knows what the terms mean. Always ask someone if you don't know the abbreviation or what is being referred to as it is important that you are clear what it means for you.

NHS Choices and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are a useful source of information explaining both medical terms and some acronyms.