Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 00:05 UK

Blood treatment 'shortens hospital stays'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Alan Ager
Alan had pancreatic cancer

Alan Ager is a fit and active pensioner, who loves dancing.

But last summer doctors diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer and prepared him to expect three weeks in hospital with a couple of days in intensive care.

Surgeons needed to remove his tumour which was contained in the head of the pancreas, as well as part of Mr Ager's intestine.

But thanks to a treatment which improved his blood flow and oxygenation, doctors were able to shave 10 days off his hospital stay at the Royal London Hospital, with just hours in intensive care.

Speedier recovery

By doing this they can deliver more oxygen to the tissues which boosts the patient's recovery rates.

Today, Mr Ager is sequence dancing a couple of times a week again and says he is back to form.

I believe if it works it would save a lot of money
Dr Rupert Pearse

"It was amazing," said 73-year-old Mr Ager.

"I was delighted with my operation and treatment, and believe taking part in trial has certainly assisted in my speedy recovery.

"I had to gradually build up my form and started walking every day, but I have had no problems or pain."

Dr Rupert Pearse, consultant and senior lecturer in intensive care medicine at the Barts and the London NHS Trust which runs the Royal London, said that although post-operative complications and death rates are low in the UK, that they do rise sharply among those needing complex surgery, the elderly or those with conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

These are areas where doctors are considering using the blood flow treatment.

Dr Pearse said staff use a special monitor during the operation to decide what fluids and heart drugs a patient needs.

"If we can improve those things we deliver more oxygen to tissues and the patient recovers better after surgery," he said.

Small studies, such as the one Mr Ager took part in, have already shown that this innovative treatment can reduce post-operative complication rates by as much as 40%.

Grant research

Now Dr Pearse's team have been given an £850,000 research grant from the National Institute for Health Research for a five-year multi-centre study to see whether the technology can be more routinely used.

"A number of studies have been done on this, including one of my own, but all of these studies have been quite small about 100 patients and have all been in the one hospital with the treatment being very closely supervised," he said.

The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen which helps digest food, and is linked to the gallbladder, which empties into the gut just below the stomach
Other pancreatic cells produce hormones, including insulin, which helps the body regulate the amount of sugar in the blood

There are approximately 7,000 new cases each year in the UK

"What we need is to know is we can make it work in the best situation.

"We now need is a much larger study that is big enough to show that you can increase survival and that the way it is done is the same as NHS practice in a day to day basis and that it works for the NHS.

"This grant will enable my team to expand our research in the field of critical care and apply this to our clinical practice, in order to increase survival rates for our most seriously-ill patients."

And Dr Pearse said that earlier release and fewer complications will save cash.

"I believe if it works it would save a lot of money," he said.

As well as increasing the survival rates of patients undergoing major surgery, Dr Pearse's research will also focus on treating patients with severe blood poisoning and major trauma.

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