Year-long treatment waits hit record highs as pandemic hits health services

Patients are waiting more than a year for routine hospital treatment, due to extreme delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of people waiting for more than 52 weeks for routine treatment has hit record highs.
The number of people waiting for more than 52 weeks for routine treatment has hit record highs.

New data from the NHS shows patients across the Black Country and Staffordshire were on the waiting list for more than 52 weeks for elective operations or treatment.

Anyone waiting for treatment should not be allowed to wait more than 18 weeks, according to NHS rules.

While hospital bosses have said they are working as "fast as they can", they are also seeing a rising demand for their emergency services caused by the impact of increasing coronavirus cases – putting further strain on medical staff.

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A total of 412 patients at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust had been waiting for more than a year at the end of August – while in Sandwell it was 252 patients waiting that long.

In Staffordshire there were 909 people waiting for routine treatment or surgery – examples include a hip operation, weight loss treatment, or cosmetic surgery.

The numbers had reached a record high – with delays caused by Covid-19 being the main source of blame.

While patients at Dudley and Walsall hospitals didn't experience as long a waiting time, statistics show thousands were still waiting longer than the recommended 18 weeks.

A total of 4,850 patients at The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust and 5,236 at the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust were on the waiting list at the end of August – waiting longer than four months.

It comes as hospital bosses say they are now seeing a rising demand for their A&E services, due to a second wave of coronavirus, with one hospital in Birmingham even being forced to turn non-urgent patients away.

The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust issued the blunt message: "If you are not in urgent need of help, you will be sent away".

Staff are currently treating 205 Covid patients, along with 2,000 more in-patients, and demand has forced them to keep people out.

Hospitals in the Black Country are also seeing an increase in demand for their services. Chief executive at The Dudley Group NHS Trust Diane Wake said: "We are seeing increasing demand into our emergency department and to our medical speciality services. We are doing all we can to see patients coming to our emergency department as quickly as possible."

We are doing all we can to reduce waiting times, say hospital bosses

Hospital bosses across the region have insisted they are doing all they can to bring down waiting times for patients – despite the growing number of Covid-19 cases putting more pressure on staff.

Across England, the number of people waiting a year or more for elective treatment or surgery hit 111,000 at the end of August, a staggering increase from 1,236 in August last year.

As the number of coronavirus cases grow with winter approaching, medical staff at hospitals in Birmingham are even turning away non-urgent patients from A&E, as demand for services begins to rise further. At the University Hospitals North Midlands NHS Trust, which runs Stafford County and Stoke Royal hospitals, almost 1,000 were on the waiting list for routine treatment in August.

Michelle Rhodes, chief nurse at UHNM said: “At the beginning of the outbreak we took significant steps to ensure we had the resource and capacity to deliver care to the increase in patients being admitted with Covid-19.

“As we are now on this path to restoration of our services, we are seeing our activity increase and therefore our bed occupancy increase.”

The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust had 412 patients waiting more than a year for treatment – but chiefs say New Cross Hospital still has the capacity to treat people at A&E.

Gwen Nuttall, chief operating officer at RWT, said: “Our staff have worked around the clock to treat people for coronavirus alongside other conditions, safely, since the pandemic escalated in March.

Capacity

"This meant reducing some services to ensure we had sufficient capacity, resulting in some unavoidable, longer waiting times for some of our patients. We have recovery plans in place to ensure we can treat patients who are waiting over 52 weeks and all of those patients will be contacted by the Trust in the next few weeks.

"We have capacity to treat those needing urgent, emergency and other essential care, so nobody should be put off seeking help from the NHS when they need it.”

While Dudley’s Russell’s Hall Hospital has not seen any patients waiting longer than a year for treatment, chief executive Diane Wake said staff were seeing a rising demand for emergency services.

She said: “Despite all that the pandemic has thrown at us, and the limitations it continues to impose on us, 72.5 per cent of patients began treatment within 18 weeks in August. We are also focused on reducing the waiting times for our longest waiting patients.”

Dr David Rosser, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, said staff were finding it “very difficult” to cope with rising demand in emergency departments.

He said a rise in Covid patients had “significantly compromised” their ability to deal with non-Covid patients. The trust currently has 206 Covid patients on wards, while 150 beds are closed due to “infection control measures”.

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