More than 3,000 patients are waiting more than a year for hospital treatment in Hertfordshire

According to NHS standards no patient should wait 52 weeks

More than 3,000 patients have been waiting for a year – or longer – for treatment at Hertfordshire hospitals.

According to NHS standards, the vast majority of patients – 92 per cent – should have received treatment within 18 weeks of referral, and no patient should wait 52 weeks.

But latest data from the two Trusts that operate NHS hospitals in the county, show there are now 3,187 patients who have already been waiting for more than a year.

More than 3,000 patients have been waiting more than a year for hospital treatment in Hertfordshire

At the North and East Hertfordshire NHS Trust – which runs the the Lister, Hertford County Hospital and the QEII hospitals – there were 1,724 of these long-waiters recorded at the end of January.

And at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust – which runs Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals – there were a further 1,463.

Both Trusts point to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on performance – and stress that treatment for patients with cancer have been prioritised.

Bosses at the WHHT say they are “extremely sorry that patients are waiting longer than expected for treatment” and say that staff are committed to reducing waiting times.

“Our staff continue to work tirelessly to keep our patients safe and identify which patients are the highest clinical priority,” said a spokesperson for the Trust.

“We are committed to reducing waiting times as quickly and as safely as possible and will continue to work in partnership with the independent sector and our local and regional partners to achieve this.”

According to latest data to be presented to the WHHT Trust board (March 4), just 76 per cent of referrals are being treated within the 18 weeks target.

And between December and January the number waiting 52 weeks or more increased by 332 – to 1463.

But of those – says the report – 122 patients had been waiting more than 18 months (78 weeks).

“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, our teams worked really hard to reduce the number of patients waiting longer than 52 weeks for treatment to almost zero,” said a spokesperson for the Trust.

“During the first peak of the pandemic, we stopped accepting referrals, apart from urgent or suspected cancer cases, so that we could focus our efforts and resources on treating Covid-19 patients.

“Throughout this time, we worked with a number of local independent sector providers to ensure the delivery of time-critical surgery and this partnership working has meant that more than 3,500 patients needing urgent and cancer related surgery have been treated.

“With fewer patients being treated for Covid-19 during the summer of 2020, we were able to start accepting referrals and restart services in a way that ensured safety for all our patients and staff.

“However, during the second wave of Covid-19 the number of cases admitted to our hospitals was very high compared to other trusts in the region and, once again, we paused planned care in December 2020 so we could release clinical teams to care for our sickest patients.

“We restored a small amount of planned surgery for urgent and cancer care patients at St Albans City Hospital on 1 March 2021 and have plans to gradually increase this over the coming weeks.”

Commenting on waiting times at the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, chief operating officer Julie Smith said: “As we have cared for patients with Covid-19 over the last year, we have prioritised emergency and urgent care – such as trauma and urgent cancer procedures.

“We are grateful to those in our community who have waited patiently for procedures, and we are committed to treating people as quickly as possible – prioritising those with the most urgent clinical needs.”

Data presented to the latest meeting of the East and North Herts NHS Trust board, on March 3, shows that 67.2 per cent of patients are being treated within 18 weeks of referral.

Throughout the pandemic the Trust has continued to prioritise treatment for patients for cancer and they suggest their performance in this area has ranked amongst the best in the country.