By: 13 March 2014

Surge in knee replacements estimated to cost the NHS £717 million this year alone

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted that the number of joint replacements would double in the 20 years between 2000 and 2020. This predicted rate would yield 70,702 knee replacements by 2020. In fact, the UK has surpassed this prediction in half the time.

Knee Replacements Performed in the UK

Year    WHO prediction    Reality         Cost to NHS
2000    n/a                           35,351         £218 million
2010    53,026                     81,979-       £507 million
2012*   56,560                    90,842        £562 million
2014    60,096                    115,959**    £717 million

* latest figures
** prediction based on current rates

Currently, knee replacements are costing the NHS £562 million a year, which is a huge increase when considering that the total cost of all joint replacements in 2000 was £405 million.

Entrepreneur Kay Russell has developed a simple way to reduce these costs, which could save the NHS an annual £61 million, which amounts to over £300 million over five years. Her invention, dubbed the Physicool bandage, uses a combination of rapid evaporation technology and compression to dramatically speed up the post-surgery recovery process. Prices of Physicool start from just £8.

A large portion of the NHS costs of knee replacements are due to the long length of stay. Patients who have undergone knee replacement surgery have a typical hospital stay of eight days (twice the length of hip replacement patients). This recovery time equates to £163.5 million of the total.

Physicool is currently being used in four NHS hospitals, including Dorset County, Nevill Hall, Winterbourne and Goring Hall. If rolled out to all hospitals across the UK, it could save the NHS £61 million annually by both reducing length of stay and offering an affordable alternative to the current rehabilitation programme.

Dr Simon Garrett, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon, said: “As the number of joint procedures increase we are always looking for new ways to improve patient aftercare. Physicool reduces patients’ pain and gets them back home quicker. Physicool not only mobilises patients quicker than the leading industry standard, it is also a third of the cost.”

In clinical studies, knee replacement patients using Physicool as opposed to the industry standard had 83% greater movement and 122% less pain by day two post-surgery.

This £61 million could pay for:

  • An additional 2,389 nurses,
  • Or 586 general practitioners,
  • Or 7,109 days’ worth of hospital meals.

Why has there been such a surge in joint replacements?

This increase is thought to be caused by two factors, according to Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis UK: “More knee replacements are being performed because the population is getting older and more obese – two of the main causes of knee osteoarthritis.”

Indeed, an estimated 37% of men and 34% of women will be obese by 2020 and, by 2031, over 15.3 million of the UK population will be over 65 years of age. Silman adds: “Joint replacements are increasingly being carried out on younger people, under the age of 50.”

Recent statistics confirm this observation, with 35% of hip and knee replacements performed on patients below the age of 65, and 12% below the age of 55.

Junior editor at Fintech Intel