Numbers waiting a year for operations in Wigan hits record high
Wigan Infirmary has set an unenviable new record for the number of patients waiting a year or more for routine treatment, figures reveal.
The Nuffield Trust said the record size of the NHS waiting list across England shows the health service has been set back years by the coronavirus pandemic and now faces a “major backlog”.
NHS rules state that patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should start treatment within 18 weeks.
But NHS statistics show 2,703 patients listed for elective operations or treatment at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) at the end of February had been waiting for at least a year – 10 per cent of all those on the waiting list.
This was a huge increase from none the year before, and the highest figure for the month of February since comparable records began in 2012.
The number of people waiting this long across England has risen to 387,900 – the highest total since December 2007, and almost 250 times that of February 2020.
The Nuffield Trust said the strain of the backlog on patients should not be underestimated, but added it is no surprise given the intense pressure of Covid-19 hospitalisations.
Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the organisation, said healthcare staff have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic, but more will be asked of them.
She added: “It is clear that the NHS has been set back years as it faces a battle to clear these major backlogs of postponed care.
“Returning to the levels of activity seen before March last year will not be enough to meet demand, and we will continue to live with coronavirus for years to come.”
Overall, 28,340 people were waiting to start hospital treatment at WWL at the end of February – an increase of 19 per cent on February 2020.
Across England, 4.7 million people were waiting for treatment at this time – the highest number since records began in mid-2007.
This was up from 4.6 million in January, and means almost half a million patients have been added to the waiting list since the pandemic began in March 2020.
WWL deputy chief executive Mary Fleming said: “The pressure we faced back in the early winter months meant that we needed to pause some aspects of our planned care, whilst continuing with as many services as close to normal as possible. This ensured enough staff and facilities were available to care for the sickest patients, especially those needing critical care, as well as people who needed urgent or emergency care.
“We are now starting to see the number of Covid-19 patients in our hospitals start to fall, as have the numbers of cases across the borough. This means we are now in a position to begin gradually and safely restarting routine and non-urgent care, in line with other hospitals across Greater Manchester.
“We are extremely grateful for the patience and understanding we have received and we know how hard this has been for people, particularly those who have had appointments and procedures postponed in very difficult circumstances.
“We would like to assure the public that we will be contacting everyone affected as soon as possible over the coming months. There is no need to contact the NHS, either your GP or the hospital, unless your symptoms have got worse. Please continue to bear with us.”
The King’s Fund said long waiting times do not just affect patients, with concerns growing over access to community services and mental health provision.
David Maguire, senior analyst at the think-tank, said: “The Government needs to be honest with the public and start planning for long-term NHS recovery.
“A good place to start would be with a fully funded workforce strategy to address the persistent staff shortages that have dogged the service for years.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government will ensure the NHS has the funds it needs to tackle the build-up in waiting lists.
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 has “inevitably” impacted the NHS, but the dedication of staff means they delivered almost a million operations and procedures during the winter wave.
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