One-year waiting list for routine treatment hits record high at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust

The number of patients waiting more than a year for routine treatment at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust has rocketed to a record high, new figures reveal.

The King's Fund think tank says there is a “mountain to climb” to tackle delays caused by Covid-19, after NHS data showed more than 100,000 people across England had been waiting at least a year for non-urgent care – the most for more than a decade.

NHS statistics show 486 patients had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more for elective operations or treatment at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust at the end of August.

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This was the highest figure for the month since comparable local records began in 2011 – the previous August, no patients had been delayed as long.

NHS statistics show 486 patients had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more for elective operations or treatment at ELHT at the end of August.

According to NHS rules, patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.

Mr Jawad Husain, Executive Medical Director at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “During the pandemic we have been managing patients requiring surgery in line with speciality and national guidance.

"Balancing the clinical urgency for treatment against the risk of Covid infection has had a clear impact on the number of patients treated. Patients have also shown a reluctance to attend hospital for diagnostic tests and treatment due to local infection and mortality rates.

“As part of the Trust's restoration work, our surgical teams are working hard to reduce waiting times and meet national targets. Just before the national lockdown began, we announced the purchase of two new surgical robots, one of these being installed at Burnley General Teaching Hospital; this greatly increases our capacity for carrying out procedures.

"Robotic surgery is much less invasive therefore reduces recovery times and length of hospital admission.

“We are aware that there is still anxiety amongst some patients about attending hospital for treatment. The safety of our patients is and always will be our priority and we can assure people that all appropriate infection prevention and control measures are in place. Anyone who is invited to attend for treatment is urged to do so.”

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Across England, the number of people waiting a year or more hit 111,000, a near tenfold increase from 1,236 in August 2019 and the highest figure since 2008.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “NHS staff are working hard to restore services and find innovative new ways to care for patients, but as these figures show, there is a mountain to climb before waits for routine NHS care return to pre-pandemic levels.

“It now seems unlikely that the highly ambitious targets set for the recovery of NHS performance over autumn will be met, and it is important to be honest with patients and the public about how long people are likely to have to wait for care.”

A combination of the huge treatment backlog, rising Covid-19 hospital admissions, an expected winter surge in demand on services and exhausted and overstretched staff means NHS leaders are “braced for a torrid winter”, he added.

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“Much will therefore depend on whether the Government can deliver increased capacity and improvements to the testing system to enable NHS and social care staff to be regularly tested for Covid.”

NHS trusts are expected to make sure no more than 8% of patients are left waiting beyond the 18-week maximum target.

Nationally, 46% of the 4.2 million people waiting at the end of the month had overshot the target time, although this is an improvement on 53% in July.

An NHS spokesman said: “Hospitals are carrying out more than a million routine appointments and operations per week, with around three times the levels of elective patients admitted to hospital than in April, as they continue to make progress on getting services back to pre-Covid levels including scanning services which are delivering millions of urgent checks and tests.

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“It is obviously vital for patients that this progress continues, and isn't jeopardised by a second wave of Covid infections spiralling out of control."