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What is the impact of hospital and surgeon volumes on outcomes in rectal cancer surgery?

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van der Meulen, Jan 
Kuryba, Angela 
Cowling, Thomas E 
Braun, Michael S 


AIM: Evidence for a positive volume-outcome relationship for rectal cancer surgery is unclear. This study aims to evaluate the volume-outcome relationship for rectal cancer surgery at hospital and surgeon level in the English National Health Service (NHS). METHOD: All patients undergoing a rectal cancer resection in the English NHS between 2015 and 2019 were included. Multilevel multivariable logistic regression was used to model relationships between outcomes and mean annual hospital and surgeon volumes (using a linear plus a quadratic term for volume) with adjustment for patient characteristics. RESULTS: A total of 13 858 patients treated in 166 hospitals were included. Six hospitals (3.6%) performed fewer than 10 rectal cancer resections per year, and 381 surgeons (45.0%) performed fewer than five such resections per year. Patients treated by high-volume surgeons had a reduced length of stay (p = 0.016). No statistically significant volume-outcome relationships were demonstrated for 90-day mortality, 30-day unplanned readmission, unplanned return to theatre, stoma at 18 months following anterior resection, positive circumferential resection margin and 2-year all-cause mortality at either hospital or surgeon level (p values > 0.05). CONCLUSION: Almost half of colorectal surgeons in England do not meet national guidelines for rectal cancer surgeons to perform a minimum of five major resections annually. However, our results suggest that centralizing rectal cancer surgery with the main focus of increasing operative volume may have limited impact on NHS surgical outcomes. Therefore, quality improvement initiatives should address a wider range of evidence-based process measures, across the multidisciplinary care pathway, to enhance outcomes for patients with rectal cancer.



centralisation, rectal cancer, specialization, volume-outcome, Humans, State Medicine, Hospitals, Rectal Neoplasms, Rectum, Surgeons

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Colorectal Dis

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Medical Research Council (MR/S020470/1)
National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR300599)