Two have long wait for operations

A PAIN in the neck looks set to continue for arthritis sufferer Max Andrews, who has just learned he faces nearly a year's wait for a hospital appointment.

A PAIN in the neck looks set to continue for arthritis sufferer Max Andrews, who has just learned he faces nearly a year's wait for a hospital appointment.

And pensioner Charles Long who was referred by his GP in May 2000, has been waiting for a hernia operation ever since seeing a consultant a year later – even though the official list only counts his wait as nine months.

Shortly after the first NHS patients were flown to France for treatment, these Suffolk patients have branded the situation in Ipswich a disgrace.

Mr Andrews was having physiotherapy for arthritis of the vertebrae, but halfway through the course of treatment in October, his physiotherapist suspected there could be an underlying problem which needed investigating.

That needs an MRI scan, which can't be done until after he has been seen by a consultant at Ipswich Hospital.

His appointment letter arrived in December and he was dismayed to see he would have to wait until November.

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In the meantime, his physiotherapy has had to stop, and the pain returned.

"It can be excrutiating," admitted Mr Andrews from Helmingham, "But I try to ignore it. You just have to get on with things.

"I now face a year without physiotherapy because my physiotherapist was loathe to continue, in case there was an additional problem, which could be aggravated by strenuous treatments.

"The scan might show there is a serious condition, which won't have been treated for a year.

"Or, as I hope, it well reveal there isn't any extra problem – but then I will have been in pain for a year.

"The NHS is a fantastic thing, but it's disgraceful to have to wait so long. I have paid taxes all my life so I do object in principle, to having to consider private hospitals.

"I am prepared to pay my travel expenses to go anywhere in the country, on the NHS – I don't need a free holiday in France!

"But that just isn't possible."

Meanwhile, Trimley pensioner Charles Long, 67, is still no nearer to knowing when he will be admitted to hospital for a simple hernia operation.

He said: "I can't believe it is taking this long and what's worse is that the hospital has written to me on two occasions actually asking me if I still want the operation. I'm absolutely disgusted at being asked such a stupid question.

"When I rang the hospital I was really shocked to learn that I wasn't even on the emergency list."

The hospital received his doctor's referral on January 29, 2000 but he did not get to see the specialist until May 23, 2001. It is only at this point that patients are added to the waiting list.

Mr Long of Mill Lane, Trimley St Martin, works part time at Diana Barnard catering in Felixstowe, but can only perform light duties because of the pain and discomfort he suffers.

He said: "I really miss going for long walks. The hernia not only stops me getting out and about but causes me a lot of pain just sitting down.

"The pain has intensified lately as I have had the flu and a really bad cough. My doctor gave me a hernia support which has eased the pain, but it's only a short-term solution."

Mr Long, who had another hernia operation ten years ago, said: "I really do need the operation soon but it's anybody's guess as to when. I'm not holding my breath."

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said bringing down waiting times was a 'very high priority' because staff appreciated how difficult and frustrating it was to wait.

She said: "We are making good progress; in November we reached our target of having no patients waiting for more than 15 months, and the trust is on schedule to reach its other targets of having no patients waiting for more than 12 months at the end of March.

"However, we are extremely busy coping with record levels of emergency and urgent admissions which does have an impact on our ability to bring people in for planned treatment.

"Everyone is treated on the basis of clinical need – which means that the most urgent cases are treated first. We encourage, together with colleagues in primary care, people to go back to their GP if they feel their condition has got worse or they are concerned. We have to schedule appointments based on the information we have at the time."