The Case for Perioperative Care

Published: 12/11/2019

Embedding prevention into routine clinical practice

The time available to patients to prepare for surgery is a ‘teachable moment’, where a patient can be encouraged by their GP, surgeon and perioperative team to make positive and lasting changes to their lifestyle. The ‘Making Every Contact Count’ (MECC) approach recognises that ‘the opportunistic delivery of consistent and concise healthy lifestyle information enables individuals to engage in conversations about their health at scale across organisations and populations’.

Fitter Better Sooner

The RCoA has launched Fitter Better Sooner, a toolkit to help patients make the most of the perioperative care period and to equip them with the information they need to get fitter for surgery, reduce postoperative complications and adopt a healthier lifestyle.


Prehabilitation of surgical patients through exercise has been proven to be particularly effective in reducing postoperative complications and helping patients to return to a full functional state quicker. A structured programme of exercise ahead of surgery improves cardiovascular and muscular conditioning and helps the patient better withstand the physiological stresses of surgery.

As well as making the patient more resilient for surgery, this prehabilitation phase offers an opportunity for patients to experience the benefits of exercise and gives them the tools and knowledge they need to stay physically active long after the postoperative period.

The case study below offers an example of the benefits that comprehensive prehabilitation ahead of surgery and discussions with patients about their lifestyles can bring to patients and their long term health. This type of initiatives are effectively ‘prevention in action’.

Patients with cancer

Prehabilitation is also particularly important for cancer patients. Seventy per cent of the 1.8 million people in the UK living with cancer are also living with one or more other long-term health conditions.

The guidance report, Prehabilitation for People With Cancer, a partnership between the RCoA, the National Institute for Health Research and Macmillan Cancer Support, contains evidence that when services are redesigned so that prehabilitation is integrated into the cancer pathway the quality of life and long-term health of patients is considerably improved.

Engaging with patients

The perioperative approach of engaging in conversations with patients about their lifestyle and providing the tools and information they need to make meaningful changes should be embraced across all care settings and healthcare professions.

Lifestyle change can be daunting for patients and complex for healthcare professionals to deliver. It requires a truly multidisciplinary approach and collaboration between specialties. The greatest success is achieved when patients are encouraged to start changing their lifestyle as soon as they are told they will require surgery by their GP, health assistant or specialty consultant.