Backlogs for routine treatments ‘will keep getting bigger until July’ says hospital chief

By Owen Sheppard, local democracy reporter

The backlog of patients waiting over a year for routine treatments at three West London hospitals will continue to grow “until July”, an NHS chief has said.

The excruciating waits for those elective treatments, such as hip replacements and knee surgery, has been caused by the pandemic.

During the first and second waves, the NHS had to almost abandon some types of care to focus on an influx of seriously ill Covid patients.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Charing Cross Hospital, as well as Hammersmith and St Mary’s hospitals, has “in excess of 2,000 patients waiting more than a year” for routine treatments.

Before the pandemic, there were zero people waiting over a year, according to the Trust’s chief executive, Professor Tim Orchard. But in January, the three hospitals reached a peak of having 492 Covid patients in at once.

At the Trust’s board meeting on May 12, the director of operational performance, Claire Hook, said: “You’ll see from the report we have generated a significant backlog in terms of elective care, and we’re anticipating that the number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for their treatment will continue to grow probably for the next couple of months, until July.

“And then we will start to make inroads into our waiting list from there, but it’s going to take some time for us to clear.”

One way that London’s NHS is trying to get through the backlog is to ask patients if they would mind being treated at an a different hospital, if their local one doesn’t have the resources to treat them in good time.

Mr Orchard said Acute Programme Boards have been set up to “make sure we coordinate between hospitals”.

He explained: “We need to be really clear that we have an important task in making sure patients get their treatment in order of clinical priority, rather than postcode being an issue.”

Another issue is the average waiting times for new cancer patients to have a first hospital appointment after their diagnosis.

In March 2021, 79 per cent of the Trust’s new cancer patients had their first appointment with the NHS’s 62-day standard waiting time. The NHS England target is 85 per cent.

But Imperial Trust has fared better than many others. Analysis by the BBC has shown that 11 NHS trusts were failing to see even 50 per cent of their cancer patients within 62 days of their diagnosis.

Mr Orchard also explained that staffing could continue to be an issue at the hospitals, as many doctors and nurses had worked overtime for months, and without a holiday during the second wave. And there is concern that staff have experienced trauma whilst treating huge numbers of patients in critical care.

He said: “We’re going to have to keep a close eye on our people metrics over the next few months because I don’t know to what extent the pressures of the last year will play out…

“What we do know is that we put in a lot of additional resource into counselling, and there are more people who have taken up that offer than ever before…. There is clearly such a need for it.”

 


 

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