As the pressure on the NHS to find efficiency savings increases, several trusts are looking to adopt a pioneering approach to varicose vein treatment that saves resources, while improving patient outcomes.
If adopted by all hospitals, The VNUS Closure procedure for the treatment of varicose veins, endorsed by the NHS National Innovation Centre, could save the health service around £17million.
The major benefits for the NHS lie in the fact that this procedure is much less resource-intensive than surgery. Conventional varicose vein stripping is a common operation, and one that takes up a great deal of operating theatre time.
The VNUS Closure procedure, however, can be carried-out in a treatment room, freeing up surgical theatres, enabling the NHS to treat other serious conditions more quickly and so reduce waiting-times.
It is said that as many as one in three adults in the UK suffers from venous reflux or varicose veins at some point in their life, and varicose vein treatment is one of the most common hospital procedures.
Almost 90,000 varicose vein operations were carried-out by the NHS in 2005-06, while approximately 20,000 similar operations were conducted privately, producing a total of around 110,000 procedures per year.
As long ago as 1999, a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, put the total cost to the NHS at between £400m and £600m.
It is difficult to compare accurately the direct costs of conventional surgery and VNUS Closure. However, as the procedure is carried out under local anaesthetic without an overnight stay, and performed with minimal staff in a simple treatment room, this technique offers significant benefits for the NHS.
Cost savings are estimated to be between £40 and £450 per patient, depending on whether or not the patient requires an overnight stay.
The VNUS Closure is also expected to bring benefits to the wider economy, with patients being able to return to work almost immediately after their procedure with little or no pain.