More than 1,500 Wigan patients waiting for routine hospital treatment for more than a year

Patients were waiting an average of 14 weeks for routine treatment at Wigan’s hospitals in February, shock figures show.

The King's Fund think tank said another national record for the number of people on hospital waiting lists shows the strain on the NHS is reaching “unacceptable levels”.

NHS England figures show the median waiting time for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) was 14 weeks at the end of February – the same as in January.

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This was also unchanged from the average wait a year previously.

Routine hospital treatment waits haven't got any shorter in Wigan over the last year

There were 39,540 patients on the waiting list in February – up from 38,584 in January, and 28,340 in February 2021.

Of those, 1,530 had been waiting for longer than one year.

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Wigan health chiefs are, unsurprisingly, unable to offer quick fixes, today thanking patients for their forbearance and saying they are trying to work their way through the backlog as quickly as possible.

Nationally, 6.2 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of February.

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This is up from 6.1 million in January and the highest number since records began in August 2007.

But the figures also show that while the overall waiting list has continued to grow, the number of people waiting more than a year and two years have both fallen.

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Danielle Jefferies, analyst at The King’s Fund, said the latest national figures show pressures are now reaching “unacceptable levels” in all parts of the health and care system.

She added: “A&E departments remain full of patients in need of urgent care, and separate data shows a similar story in general practice and social care.

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“In March, 22,500 people waited over 12 hours to be admitted to hospital from A&E – a more than thirty-fold increase compared to a year ago."

Separate figures show 1.5 million patients in England were waiting for a key diagnostic test in February – the same as in January.

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At WWL, 7,626 patients were waiting for one of 12 standard tests, such as an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy at this time.

Of them, 1,777 (23 per cent) had been waiting for at least six weeks.

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WWL deputy chief executive Mary Fleming said: “WWL would like to thank the people of the Wigan borough for their continued support following the restart of the trust’s elective surgery programme earlier this year.

“As part of the ongoing response to Covid-19, WWL regrettably had to postpone a number of planned admissions for surgery as part of a Greater Manchester-wide decision. Throughout this time, surgery for cancer patients and the most clinically urgent elective patients continued.

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“We would ask our patients to please bear with us as we work through the waiting lists which, following guidance from NHS England, will be rescheduled as soon as possible based on clinical need.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there are 20,000 medically-fit patients who cannot be discharged due to pressures on social care."

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“Trusts are also grappling with the ongoing impact of Covid-19," he added.

"That’s meant more patients with Covid-19 in hospital beds, more staff off work with Covid-19, and more delayed discharges than anyone was expecting or had predicted.”

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Other figures from NHS England show that of 58 patients urgently referred at WWL in February, 38 received cancer treatment within two months.

A month previously – when 64 patients were referred – 50 were treated within 62 days.

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In February 2021, 40 patients were treated within this period, out of 58 that were referred.

NHS England national medical director Prof Stephen Powis said: “Nobody should be under any illusion about how tough a job NHS staff have on their hands, balancing competing priorities and maintaining high quality patient care.

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“Despite pressure on various fronts and the busiest winter ever for the NHS, long waits fell as staff continue to tackle two-year waits by July thanks to the innovative approaches to care they are now adopting."