Introduction: Two prospective audits of activity in a hand unit were performed, in 1989-1990 and during 2000-2001, to identify trends in elective hand surgery referrals from primary care.
Patients and methods: Two 6-month prospective audits of activity in a hand unit were performed, including elective referrals from primary care. Data were collected on all in-district referrals with elective hand disorders. Cross boundary flow was identified to permit assessment of changes in referrals by diagnosis over a decade.
Results: There was a 36% increase in health authority referrals for elective hand surgery over the decade (from 289 to 392 per 100,000 of population per year). The number of elective hand surgery operations rose 34% over the decade (from 149 to 199 operations per 100,000 of population per year). Carpal tunnel syndrome (the commonest reason for elective referral) almost doubled (from 59.7 to 112 per 100,000 of population per year). Referrals for ganglion, the second most common elective referral, rose modestly. Referrals for osteoarthritis (commonly basal thumb arthritis) almost trebled over the decade to become the fourth commonest condition referred to the hand unit (from 12.7 to 34 per 100,000 of population per year). Referrals for Dupuytrens disease, trigger finger and rheumatoid arthritis were relatively unchanged over the decade. Congenital hand referrals are uncommon but doubled during the decade.
Conclusions: Hand surgery referrals rose by 36% over the decade. Analysis of the commoner conditions referred reveal a high prevalence within the community with the possibility of increased referrals in years to come.