Hundreds of patients waiting more than a year for treatment in Black Country

Hundreds of people in the Black Country have been waiting more than a year for hospital treatment amid the backlog caused by Covid, while cancer delays are causing particular concern for bosses.

Hundreds of patients are waiting for treatment.
Hundreds of patients are waiting for treatment.

Hospitals have been forced to prioritise patients requiring treatment based on clinical need, meaning many have been left with indefinite waits.

More than 1,700 people have been waiting at least a year for treatment at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT), which runs New Cross and Cannock Chase hospitals, latest figures showed, though that number was down by more than 300 on the start of June. The trust also said it was on track to fail all nine cancer treatment targets for May due to the impact of coronavirus.

Dudley Group NHS Trust, which runs Russells Hall Hospital, said its 52-week wait performance was the fourth lowest of Midlands trusts.

More than 2,100 patients have been waiting more than a year for treatment at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which runs Sandwell and Birmingham City hospitals. The trust also said its cancer performance was "below standards" during April. Its interim boss Richard Beeken said the trust was "seeing unprecedented pressures" across urgent care.

At Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Walsall Manor, there were 301 patients who had waited at least a year as of March, the latest figures available. The trust said it had "one of the best 52-week wait positions in the country".

The pandemic forced hospitals to prioritise Covid patients, meaning many non-urgent operations were put back. There is now a huge backlog for medical chiefs to tackle.

Bosses at RWT have raised concerns about delays on cancer treatment and said they were struggling to keep up with the number of patients being referred by GPs, with breast cancer referrals particularly high.

Cancer Research UK has warned progress on reducing breast cancer deaths could be at risk because of treatment delays, while Macmillan Cancer Care said it was "categorically unacceptable" that people with cancer were facing delays.

A new RWT trust report said: "We are currently predicting failure of all of the nine indicators for May 21. Patients on a cancer pathway (alongside urgent patients) are being prioritised for recovery; however, performance is impacted by the backlog of patients caused from Covid.

"Of concern is the volume of referrals now being seen, which were at 111 per cent of average (2019/20) levels during May 21, with breast referrals currently running at 122 per cent of pre-Covid average numbers. This poses a significant capacity challenge predominantly in breast radiology."

Meanwhile, RWT bosses said they were working to address the backlog of people who have been waiting more than a year. The report said: "We have reported 1,759 patients who have now breached the 52+ weeks at month end - this is a reduction of 328 from the previous month. However, we continue to give priority to shorter waiting patients with higher clinical priority. Of the patients who are currently over 52 weeks, 83 per cent of these are waiting for an inpatient/day case procedure, seven per cent are awaiting diagnostic tests and 10 per cent are awaiting a first outpatient appointment."

Elaine Wilson, Macmillan cancer care's head of partnerships for the Midlands said: “It is categorically unacceptable that people with cancer have been left to feel abandoned and unsafe, time and time again.

"The Government must put the most vulnerable people first and deliver clear advice. We know many people living with cancer are desperately worried about how they will stay safe. You are not alone. If you’re worried please get in touch – Macmillan is here to support you.

“It’s vital that the Government also ensures cancer care will be not be disrupted as it has been in previous peaks – the lessons of last winter cannot be ignored. The Government must promise people living with cancer that NHS cancer care will get any and every resource necessary to ensure we don’t see any further increases to cancer backlogs or treatment waiting times.”

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