Background: Emergency laparotomy is a common intra-abdominal procedure. Outcomes are generally recognized to be poor, but there is a paucity of hard UK data, and reports have mainly been confined to single-centre studies.
Methods: Clinicians were invited to join an 'Emergency Laparotomy Network' and to collect prospective non-risk-adjusted outcome data from a large number of NHS Trusts providing emergency surgical care. Data concerning what were considered to be key aspects of perioperative care, including thirty-day mortality, were collected over a 3 month period.
Results: Data from 1853 patients were collected from 35 NHS hospitals. The unadjusted 30 day mortality was 14.9% for all patients and 24.4% in patients aged 80 or over. There was a wide variation between units in terms of the proportion of cases subject to key interventions that may affect outcomes. The presence of a consultant surgeon in theatre varied between 40.6% and 100% of cases, while a consultant anaesthetist was present in theatre for 25-100% of cases. Goal-directed fluid management was used in 0-63% of cases. Between 0% and 68.9% of the patients returned to the ward (level one) after surgery, and between 9.7% and 87.5% were admitted to intensive care (level three). Mortality rates varied from 3.6% to 41.7%.
Conclusions: This study confirms that emergency laparotomy in the UK carries a high mortality. The variation in clinical management and outcomes indicates the need for a national quality improvement programme.