Over 1,000 patients waiting more than a year for hospital treatment in Hertfordshire
More than 1,000 patients have now been waiting for treatment at one of the county’s hospitals for more than a year, latest data shows.
National guidance says that patients should expect to receive treatment within 18 weeks of their referral to hospital by a GP.
But the latest data shows there has been a sharp increase in hospital waiting times since March this year – reflecting the wider impact of Covid-19 on the county’s healthcare services.
To the west of the county there are now 675 patients who have been waiting in excess of 52 weeks through the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust, which operates Hemel Hempstead, Watford General and St Albans City hospitals.
And to the east of the county there are a further 483 patients who have been waiting a year for treatment from the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.
According to data presented to a meeting of the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust board on Thursday, September 3, there were no patients who had been waiting longer than 52 weeks for treatment in their hospitals in January.
But six months later, in July, data – presented to the board – showed that figure had risen to 484.
And a verbal report to the meeting suggested that the latest figure was 675.
The Trust’s chief operating officer Sally Tucker says the Trust is restarting referrals in a safe way – following the halting of all but urgent or cancer related referrals during the early stages of the pandemic.
But the number of appointments continues to be limited, as a result of infection control measures.
Harm reviews, she says, are being conducted for ‘long waiting patients’.
And while she says all patients will receive appointments, she has urged anyone whose symptoms have worsened to contact their GP.
Speaking after the meeting of the Trust board, Ms Tucker said: “We’re extremely sorry for patients who are waiting longer than expected for treatment.
“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 during the early phases of the pandemic.
“With fewer patients now being treated for COVID-19, we’re working with Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group to restart referrals and services in a way that ensures safety for all our patients and staff.
“We know there are many people who are waiting for treatment and there are fewer available appointments because of the need to follow essential infection control precautions.
“These take time and reduce the number of appointment slots. We are continuing to hold telephone clinics as much as possible so that our patients do not need to come into our hospitals.
“It may be some time before you actually receive an appointment as we are prioritising patients who have the most urgent clinical need.
“If you feel your symptoms are getting worse please see your GP who will resend your referral to the trust with information about your worsening symptoms.
“We also carry out harm reviews for long waiting patients to ensure their safety.
“We understand this is a frustrating time for our patients but please be assured that you will receive an appointment.”
Nationally, NHS targets say 92 per cent of patients should be treated within 18 weeks of referral to hospital.
But the data presented to the board shows that almost half of the 15,351 patients waiting for treatment in July had already been waiting for more than 18 weeks.