Postoperative complications in the first 24 hours: a general surgery audit


  • Kathryn Zeitz BN MN PhD DipAppSci GradDipEd,

  • Helen McCutcheon BA PhD MPH,

  • Annette Albrecht BN MN DipAppSci

Kathryn Zeitz,
Department of Clinical Nursing,
University of Adelaide,
South Australia 5005,


Background.  Traditionally, the purpose of routine postoperative surveillance has been to detect postoperative complications. The literature reports well-documented, procedure-specific postoperative complication rates. However, there are no reports detailing the prevalence of postoperative complications in general surgical ward settings, where nurses care for patients following a variety of surgical procedures.

Aims.  This paper reports an audit of the frequency and type of postoperative complications in a general surgical population occurring in the first 24 hours postoperatively.

Method.  A patient record audit was undertaken for all postoperative patients who returned to two general surgical wards. This was conducted sequentially, involving a 4 week data collection phase in each participating ward during 2001.

Results.  The audit sample comprised 144 patient records with an average patient age of 54 years. Statistically significant results included the rate of postoperative nausea and vomiting of 37·5% (n = 54), and 17% (n = 25) of patients experiencing another ‘clinical event’.

Limitations.  The findings reflect only those complications recorded/documented in postoperative patients’ records, and cannot be generalized beyond the sample and setting.

Conclusions.  Postoperative patients cared for on general surgical wards experienced a high level of nausea and vomiting, while the occurrence of life-threatening complications was small.