Impact of Covid on hospital waiting times could last years
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The impact of the coronavirus on waiting times for surgery in hospitals could last months if not years, according to the boss of one of the area's hospital trusts.
Nick Hulme, CEO of the East Sufffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said it would take a "herculean" effort to get waiting times back to where they were before the pandemic.
While emergency treatment, such as that for cancer, has continued at the hospitals, elective surgery has been badly affected by the virus.
The latest referral time data, which goes back to November 2020 shows that the number of people waiting over a year for treatment at Suffolk's hospitals has risen exponentially in the past year.
In January 2020, just one patient had waited more than a year for treatment at ESNEFT, by November that number was 1,673.
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At West Suffolk Hospital 12 patients were awaiting treatment for over a year in January 2020, by November it was 1,960.
The number of patients starting treatment within 18 weeks had begun to rise again during November, having dropped to around 43% almost half of the 80% levels earlier in the year.
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“In terms of the more routine work, the scheduled work, the elective work I think it will be a number of weeks before we start those programmes back to anywhere near normal,” said Mr Hulme.
“It will take several months if not years to get our waiting lists to where they were in a pre-Covid age.
“We’ve lost so much ground and it will require a Herculean effort when we get back to having the capacity of theatres and having the ITU and other wards to see those patients."
Chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital Steve Dunn, said: “Despite huge pressure across our trust, data published this month shows that average waiting times for elective surgery is less than 12 weeks.
“We continue to see and treat those with the most clinically urgent and the public can help too by observing the latest government rules and following ‘hands, face, space’."
Patients are already seeing long delays for treatment.
One person who was told he needed hospital treatment to extract a wisdom tooth was warned by his own dental surgery that they had been warned routine hospital treatment for conditions like this now had a wait of at least a year.
He said he understood why there were delays for this kind of treatment, there were times when this kind of problem could be quite painful and he hoped that when the pandemic was over it would be possible to speed up this kind of treatment.
Regional director of strategy and transformation for NHS England, Simon Wood, told the Essex Health and Wellbeing Board that options were being looked at to help elective surgeries as time went on.
"It could look like moving more patients around the region to different locations," said Mr Wood.
"It could look like elective surgical hubs and centres where we are able to do a lot of activity."