Pandemic Has Led To Huge Increase in Waiting Lists

Hospitals struggle with backlog as patients' treatments delayed by over a year

Professor Tim Orchard
Professor Tim Orchard

Bosses at three major West London hospitals have explained how the coronavirus pandemic is causing a huge backlog on waiting lists for elective treatments and appointments.

The board of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust (ICHT), which runs Charing Cross Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital, discussed the matter on 29 July.

Reports presented to the board show that hundreds of patients have now been waiting a year for a variety of different treatments, after being referred by their GP.

“A total of 258 patients had been waiting for more than 52 weeks at the end of May, and the final figure for June is expected to be more than 500 patients,” the report said. In February 2020 there was just one patient who had waited 52 weeks.

It continued: “Some patients who cannot be booked at ICHT (including urgent and cancer) are being offered treatment in the independent [private] sector.”

An ICHT spokesperson later explained that private hospitals are also being hired for “urgent non-cancer work in specialities such as cardiology, gynaecology, general surgery and urology.”

During the board meeting, ICHT’s chief executive, Professor Tim Orchard, said NHS staff are “tired and stressed”.

“The key issue to highlight is that there is only one goal for the NHS in the next few months and that is to get services up and running,” Professor Orchard said.

“And I think everybody can understand what a challenge that is because everyone is so tired and stressed. And the job… we’re calling it a reset but really it’s moving to a completely new way of working across the entire range of activities we undertake.”

Chiefs at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and West Middlesex University Hospital in Isleworth, are also facing huge backlogs due to the disruption caused by COVID.

Last month, Robert Hodgkiss, the deputy chief executive of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said “just under 2,000” were on 52-week waiting lists across the whole of North West London.

The ICHT board papers also revealed that its three hospitals have hundreds of empty beds. Just 49.6 per cent of beds were in use in May, down from 90.3 per cent in November 2019. This was after huge numbers of the country’s inpatient wards were converted into COVID wards.

Meanwhile, the three ICHT hospitals were still performing strongly against their target for ensuring patients are seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of being referred by a GP.

But too many patients were still waiting over the 62-day target time to get their first treatment for a cancer diagnosis. 76 per cent of patients were seen within this time, against a target of 85 per cent, according to the board papers.

Two-thirds of ICHT’s patients were waiting more than six weeks for their cancer diagnostic test at the end of May. The board papers said the problem was being felt across the sector and that NHS hospitals were looking for additional help from private hospitals.

The number of people who received a cancer treatment at the three hospitals fell from 104 in April to 54 in May.

The ICHT spokesperson said: “Like all other NHS trusts, we quickly had to make temporary changes to the way our services are organised. In order to create capacity for the increased level of demand, and to minimise the risk of contracting the virus for other patients, we carried out only procedures that were time critical.

“This has meant we have seen a significant impact on our waiting lists – particularly affecting routine surgery. We also have a significant backlog in diagnostic tests such as endoscopy, bronchoscopy, CT or MRI.

“All patients are now being reviewed and re-scheduled as we resume more planned care using new Covid-protected and Covid-risk-managed pathways.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

August 11, 2020