A traffic‐light coding system to organize emergency surgery across surgical disciplines. BJS 2014; 101: 134-140.

Published: 22nd November 2013

Authors: A. Leppäniemi, I. Jousela


Emergency surgery is associated with night‐time procedures and disruption of elective surgery. An analysis was undertaken of the effect of classifying emergency operations uniformly with a three‐tier urgency colour code and the use of dedicated daytime operating rooms.


Observed changes from 2001 to 2012 in the number, timing and ability to meet the urgency‐designated colour code deadline were retrieved from the computer‐based operating theatre organization system for all emergency operations.


The number of emergency operations performed annually ranged from 3330 to 4341, with an increasing trend. The proportion of night‐time emergency operations decreased from 27·4 per cent (2563 of 9347) before to 23·5 per cent (7731 of 32 959) after introduction of the colour coding system in 2004 (χ2 = 61·94, 1 d.f., P < 0·001). In 2007, owing to long preoperative delays in patients with acute appendicitis and acute cholecystitis, colour codes for these patients were upgraded from ‘orange’ to ‘red’ and from ‘yellow’ to ‘orange’ respectively. The proportion of patients operated on with a red code before and after this change increased from 45·2 per cent (5831 of 12 907 operations) to 62·7 per cent (13 020 of 20 778 operations; χ2 = 986·99, 1 d.f., P < 0·001). In 2012, the office‐hours raw utilization time for the principal emergency operation theatre was 85·4 per cent.


The structural separation of elective and emergency surgery, the use of dedicated daytime operating theatres and the implementation of a universal classification of emergency operations reduced night‐time surgery, improved the efficiency of operating theatre utilization during daytime, shortened preoperative delay in patients requiring urgent surgery, and enabled monitoring and corrective actions for providing emergency surgery services.

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