Keeping well before surgery

Surgery at our hospitals

How long you wait for surgery depends on what surgery you're having and how urgent this is. It might be days, weeks or months before your operation.

We usually contact you about 2 weeks before your surgery and invite you to come to a pre-operative assessment clinic.

How to keep well before surgery

Before you have your treatment, you can take simple steps to improve your physical and mental health. Looking after your health reduces the chance of complications. It also improves your wellbeing now and during your recovery.

This guide links to information that helps you to:

You can also get advice and support from a GP or the hospital team caring for you.

While you wait for treatment, it's important to:

  • let us know if your condition changes or your symptoms get worse
  • tell us if you think you no longer need surgery
  • tell us if your contact details change
  • read our information about having surgery
  • read our information about staying in hospital as an inpatient
  • look after your health
  • follow any advice that we give you about how to prepare for surgery
  • go to a clinic if we invite you
  • keep taking your prescribed medicines, unless a GP or hospital doctor have told you not to do this

Feeling prepared for surgery

The following video by the Royal College of Anaesthetists describes what you can do to prepare for surgery.

Having surgery is a big moment in your life. By preparing for it with support from your healthcare team, you can reduce your risk of complications. Fitter patients who are able to improve their health and activity levels recover from surgery more quickly.

Start today to make a real difference to your recovery and long-term health.

Many healthcare professionals work together to make your operation and recovery go smoothly. But it all starts with you. Your GP and nurses at the surgery will organise your care and give you support from when you first think you may need surgery right through until you have fully recovered.

Surgeons, ward doctors, anaesthetists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and many others all need to work together with you for a successful outcome.

There are a number of changes you can make yourself now, which can improve your health ahead of surgery and beyond.

Consider how much you smoke, drink, your diet, your weight and how much exercise you do.

Stopping smoking is hard. The good news is that quitting or cutting down now can reduce chest infections, help your wounds heal quicker and shorten your hospital stay.

Your heart and lungs have to work harder after an operation to help the body to heal. To do this, try to do any activity which makes you feel out of breath at least 3 times per week. Start slowly and stay within your limits.

Alcohol can have many effects on the body. Importantly, it can make the liver less able to make the building blocks your body needs for healing. If you drink regularly, you should make sure you're drinking within the recommended limits or lower.

Your body needs to repair after surgery. Eating a healthy diet before and after your surgery can really help.

If you have obesity, losing weight can help you reduce the stress on your heart and lungs and reduce complications such as blood clots and wound infections.

Together, these lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your recovery but also your future health.

It is important to control known medical conditions as well as possible before surgery.

Diabetes: good control of your blood sugar is important to reduce your risk of infections after surgery.

Blood pressure should be controlled to safe levels to reduce your risk of stroke. Operations may be delayed if it's too high.

Anaemia: if you think you might be anaemic, talk to your GP about testing. Early treatment can make you feel less tired and may stop you needing a blood transfusion.

Heart, lung and other medical problems: consider asking your GP or nurse for a review of your medications.

You can also just book in for a general health check at your surgery if you're between 40 and 74 years old.

Anxiety and mental health: it is normal to be anxious about having surgery. Relaxation, mindfulness and breathing exercises can all help. Your GP surgery can let you know about all the support in your area.

Dental health: if you have loose teeth or crowns, a visit to the dentist may reduce the risk of damage to your teeth during an operation.

We know that coming into hospital for surgery can be a worrying time. Taking an active role in planning and preparing for your operation will help you feel in control.

How will I pass the time at the hospital? Listening to music on headphones, reading a book or doing puzzles can help you relax and time will seem to pass quicker.


It is normal to be very tired after an operation. If you plan ahead, you'll be able to rest and heal better when you get home.

Consider if you have enough food and healthy snacks for when you get home. It's better to organise childcare and care for pets early, so you can relax.

Don't forget to take enough medication to last you. You should take your usual medication with you in its original packaging.

Remember the temperature can vary, so take your pyjamas and slippers but also something warm.

Before going to hospital, you should have a shower or bath to clean your skin and reduce the risk of infection.

Think of all the other things you need to do to put your mind at rest when you go into hospital.

Talk to family, friends and your neighbours about going into hospital. They can all help you prepare and support you when you return home.

The healthcare team at the hospital will discuss your surgery, anaesthetic and recovery period. They will discuss your risks from surgery and your anaesthetic, as well as any choices you have.

It can be helpful to write down your questions, so you don't forget to ask any. What time do I need to stop eating and drinking before surgery? What medication should I take on the day of my surgery? How long before I can drive again? Are there any do's and don'ts? How long do I need to take off work?

Before you go home, your nurse will give you:

  • information about what to expect during your recovery
  • details of exercises to do to help you recover and avoid blood clots
  • a sick note (fit note) for your employer
  • how to manage pain
  • when to take your medication
  • how to look after your wound and dressings
  • when you can bathe
  • if and when your stitches need removing

This will also include any do's and don'ts, anything to look out for and a number to call if you're worried.


It's normal for some days to go better than others. Recovering from surgery may take many weeks.

Keep a recovery diary, which you can continue after you go home. This will help show you how your recovery is progressing.

Give yourself some goals each day.

Try and get into a routine and get up in the morning at your regular time.

Keep as active as you can and do exercises you're given to speed up your recovery.

Visits and phone calls can cheer you up and encourage you to reach your goals.

Be careful, though, that you don't tire yourself out from too many visitors. Let them know the best way to help you.

You too can recover quickly from your surgery and make some lasting changes. The earlier you start, the better.

Exercise and keep active

It's good to exercise and keep active, unless you have been told not to do this. 

To get active, look at the NHS Better Health guide for getting active.

Stop smoking

Stopping smoking before any planned hospital treatment is the best thing you can do. It speeds up your recovery and has many other health benefits.

Our stop smoking service can support you with this.

Eat well

Eating healthy food and having a balanced diet helps you to keep well. For information about this, read the NHS Eat well guide for a healthy, balanced diet.

If you need to gain weight, we might prescribe you food supplements. To lose weight, download the free NHS Weight Loss Plan app or look at the NHS Better Health guide.

Talk to the team caring for you before you make changes to your diet. They can support you to reach, or keep to, a healthy weight safely. They also make sure that a change in diet does not affect any medicines you might take.

Drink less alcohol

Avoid drinking more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol each week, spread across 3 days or more. 14 units are equal to about 6 medium (175ml) glasses of wine or 6 pints of average-strength (4%) beer.

To drink less alcohol, download the Drink Free Days app or look at the NHS Better Health guide for drinking less.

Control your blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, you can help to manage it by looking after your general health. If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend taking medicines to keep it under control.

Read more about blood pressure on the NHS website.

Mental health support

Waiting for treatment can be a difficult and distressing time. Symptoms that affect your body can also sometimes affect your mental wellbeing. It's important to get support for this, too.

The NHS has a detailed guide about mental health. This guide includes information about mental health conditions, services and symptoms. It also has advice about life situations and self-help (things that you can do yourself to help your mental health).

Read more about mental health on the NHS website. You can also find out how to get urgent help.

Call 999 or go to A&E now if:

  • someone's life is at risk (for example, if they have seriously injured themselves or taken an overdose of medicine)
  • you do not feel that you can keep yourself or someone else safe

A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. You are not wasting anyone's time.

Call 999 or find your nearest A&E.

If your health gets worse

If your symptoms change or become worse, it's important to tell us.

Contact a GP if:

  • you have not had your first appointment with the department at the hospital
  • your GP has referred you for a diagnostic test, such as a scan or X-ray

Contact the hospital team caring for you if:

  • you're waiting for a follow-up appointment, after being seen by someone at our hospitals 
  • someone at our hospitals has referred you for a diagnostic test, such as a scan or X-ray
  • you're waiting for surgery or an outpatient procedure
  • you no longer need or want to have treatment

Find contact details for your hospital team using our A to Z list of services.

Out of hours

If you have an urgent medical problem, call 111 or go to

In an emergency

Call 999 or go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Resource number: 5312/VER1
Last reviewed: August 2022
Next review due: August 2025

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