Pre-NELA vs NELA - has anything changed, or is it just an audit exercise?

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Following evidence suggestive of high mortality following emergency laparotomies, the National Emergency Laparotomy Audit (NELA) was set up, highlighting key standards in emergency service provision. Our aim was to compare our NHS trust’s adherence to these recommendations immediately prior to, and following, the launch of NELA, and to compare patient outcome.


This was a retrospective study of patients who underwent an emergency laparotomy over the course of 6 months - 3 months either side of the initiation of NELA.


There were 44 patients before the initiation of NELA (pre-NELA, PN group) and 55 in the first 3 months of NELA (N group). We saw a significant increase in the proportion of patients whose decision to operate was made by the consultant: 75.0% in the PN group vs 100% in N group (subsequent data presented in this order) (P < 0.001). The presence of a consultant surgeon (75.0% vs 83.6%, P = 0.321) and anaesthetist (100.0% vs 90.9%, P = 0.064) in theatres were comparable in both groups. Risk stratification based on Portsmouth Physiological and Operative Severity Score for the enUmeration of Mortality and Morbidity (P-POSSUM) score showed no difference in high-risk patients in both groups (47.7% vs 36.4%, P = 0.306). With the NELA initiative, however, significantly more patients were admitted directly from theatres to the critical care unit, when compared with the pre-NELA period (9.1% vs 27.3%, P = 0.038). This also reflected a significant reduction in unexpected escalation to a higher level of care during this period (10.0% vs 0%, P = 0.036). Significantly more patients had uneventful recovery in the NELA period (52.3 vs 76.4%, P = 0.018), although there was no difference in 30-day mortality between the groups (2.3% vs 7.3%, P = 0.378).


This study demonstrated a greater degree of consultant involvement in the decision to operate during NELA. More high-risk patients have been identified preoperatively with diligent risk assessment and, hence, have been proactively admitted to critical care units following laparotomy, which may account for the significant reduction in unexpected escalation to level 2 or level 3 care and thus in overall better patient outcomes.

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