THE number of patients waiting more than a year for routine treatment at two hospital trusts in the Bradford district has rocketed to a record high, new figures reveal.
There is a mountain to climb to tackle delays caused by Covid-19, after NHS data showed more than 100,000 people across England had been waiting at least a year for non-urgent care – the most for more than a decade.
NHS statistics show 430 patients had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more for elective operations for treatment at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the end of August, while the Airedale NHS Foundation Trust had 113 patients.
These were the highest figures for the month since comparable local records began in 2011 – the previous August, no patients at Bradford had been delayed as long and Airedale had only one.
According to NHS rules, patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.
Across England, the number of people waiting a year or more hit 111,000, a near tenfold increase from 1,236 in August 2019 and the highest figure since 2008.
A combination of the huge treatment backlog, rising Covid-19 hospital admissions, an expected winter surge in demand on services and exhausted and overstretched staff means NHS leaders could be braced for a busy winter.
Of the 21,060 patients waiting for treatment at Bradford Teaching Hospitals Trust at the end of August, 47 per cent had been doing so for more than the 18-week window. At Airedale, of the 8,224 patients waiting for treatment, 41 per cent had been doing so for more than 18 weeks.
NHS trusts are expected to make sure no more than eight per cent of patients are left waiting beyond the 18-week maximum target. Nationally, 46 per cent of the 4.2 million people waiting at the end of the month had overshot the target time.
A spokesperson for Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “The Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause significant challenges with a large increase in demand for the resources across the NHS.
“We remain committed to meeting the healthcare needs of all our patients at this difficult time but must direct care to those in the most immediate need first; patients needing emergency care or suffering from conditions, which without urgent action, would shorten their life.
“The decisions we are making are extremely difficult. To help make these decisions in the best interest of all our patients, the trust follows national guidelines endorsed by NHS England. These guidelines help us to treat patients in order, based on the potential benefit verses the risk of Covid-19 infection while in hospital and to consider the potential harm if their operation or procedure is delayed.
“We will be writing to all patients in the next few weeks to update them on likely waiting times, and we are maximising use of the independent sector to further increase our theatre capacity.”
Rob Aitchison, chief operating officer at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We apologise to anyone who has had to wait longer than necessary for an operation.
“In March, we had to take the difficult decision to suspend many of our services, to focus on treating those patients who needed us the most. This included pausing non-urgent elective surgery, although throughout the pandemic we continued to carry out urgent and cancer surgery.
“In the summer, we reached a position where we were able to begin restarting our services. Since then surgery has resumed across all of our specialities and each speciality has been contacting patients to confirm timescales.
“This has been an unprecedented situation. We want to continue to be able to carry out elective surgery, which is why we must all do what we can to stop the spread of Covid infections.”