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Pearson et al1 describe a modelling exercise undertaken to estimate the number of beds required for the smooth operation of a multi-specialty paediatric intensive care unit that offers regional and supra-regional services. Several features of this problem are common in healthcare. Every healthcare system around the world has to balance the pressure for high utilisation of an expensive or scarce resource with the pressure for that resource to be available on demand for patients who need it. In the absence of variability, this would be a simple task of matching supply to a steady level of demand. Variability in timing and nature of referrals and in length of stay complicates matters. Striking the balance between utilisation and access is a daily challenge for clinicians. Starting with about the right level of capacity in place can help.
Operational Research (OR), the use of mathematical and computer based modelling to address complex problems of this nature, has great potential for informing capacity planning exercises within health services.2 There are many academic groups and OR practitioners active in the UK (see for instance mashnet.info) and internationally able to provide advice and conduct modelling studies in this area. A crucial role OR modelling serves is to allow decision makers to explore the trade-offs that exist between what seems efficient from the perspective of patients and what seems efficient from the perspective of managers. If you engage with Operational Researchers, you will find them to be a bit geeky (though usually in a nice way) and you …
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