Thousands of Wiganers could be missing out on vital scans

Shock figures show the extent to which non-Covid NHS services ground to a halt earlier this year.

Friday, 1st January 2021, 7:00 am
MRI scan images. Photo by Shutterstock

The BBC Shared Data Unit found some 49,110 fewer diagnostics scans were carried out by WWL between April and September this year than in the same six-month period in 2019.

That represents a drop of more than a third, at 34.35 per cent.

The number of people facing long waits for their scans also shot up at WWL this year.

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The NHS and professional bodies say hospitals were forced to cancel elective appointments to limit patients in wards, but experts believe Covid-19 has exposed flaws in the health service’s ability to diagnose serious conditions early on.

However, the Trust gave an upbeat assessment of how it was rebounding from problems earlier in the year and said NHS England had obtained extra scanners.

The local data shows there were 93,850 diagnostics scans carried out by WWL between April and September this year. Between the same months in 2019 some 142,960 scans were carried out.

There was a similarly stark disparity in how many patients were waiting six weeks or more for their scans.

In 2019 between April and September, this figure was just one per cent at WWL.

However, in the same six-month period for 2020 some 15 per cent of patients were waiting for six weeks or longer.

This is still better than the regional figures, as one in three patients are currently in a long wait for scans in the North West.

The BBC Shared Data Unit combined the figures for the nine common diagnostic imaging tests which are carried out in UK hospitals.

The waiting times figures are made up of patients in a queue for some 15 different types of diagnostic test.

Across England the Covid-19 pandemic has seen plummeting numbers of diagnostic scans being done, with 4.4m fewer carried out by hospital trusts between April and September compared to the same time last year.

That means the national drop as a percentage is 33 per cent, very similar to the figure for the borough.

The North West had the second-biggest drop in scans being done, with only London seeing a larger reduction.

Waiting times have also surged during the pandemic and the job of clearing the backlog is slow going.

In September there were still 1,272,282 on the waiting list in England, with 420,445 patients waiting six weeks or more.

Problems with diagnostics delays pre-date the novel coronavirus, with a 2019 report recommending the NHS employ 6,000 more people in radiology among its key points.

Top radiologists told the BBC Shared Data Unit that the pressures of Covid-19 have made this situation worse.

Dr William Ramsden, the vice president of the clinical radiology faculty for the Royal College of Radiologists, said he agreed with Cancer Research UK that there is a risk a cohort of cancer patients could have missed between March and September.

Consultant radiologist Dr Nick Screaton said the effect on diagnostics could have “a big impact on more advanced cancer and heart disease.”

A WWL spokesperson said: “Despite rapidly rising Covid hospitalisations, CT scans are now back to the same levels as last year, while MRI scans are back up to 88 per cent compared to last October and the NHS has bolstered its diagnostic capacity by securing a deal with the independent sector to provide 34 mobile CT scanners across the country.

“At the height of the first wave, some people chose to postpone care, but since then hospital admissions have rebounded, non-urgent treatment has increased by 300 per cent between April and September and GP appointments are now operating at well above usual levels.

“The NHS message to the public remains the same – come forward and get the care you need.”

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