Concern over backlog of patients

HOSPITAL bosses in Suffolk claimed last night they could clear a backlog of 6,000 patients who must be seen before the end of the year - despite new figures revealing more than 1,000 of them do not even have appointments yet.

By Danielle Nuttall

HOSPITAL bosses in Suffolk claimed last night they could clear a backlog of 6,000 patients who must be seen before the end of the year - despite new figures revealing more than 1,000 of them do not even have appointments yet.

Concern has been voiced by MPs that cash-strapped Ipswich and West Suffolk hospitals may struggle to meet the targets, which are set by the Government.

New figures, released by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA), reveal there are more outpatients without appointment dates at West Suffolk Hospital than any other hospital in the region - 669.

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A total of 6,102 inpatients and outpatients need to be seen at both Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital before the end of December to be within target: 3,140 in Ipswich and 2,962 at West Suffolk.

Meanwhile, a total of 1,158 inpatients and outpatients have not received appointments yet: 326 at Ipswich and 832 at West Suffolk.

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If the patients are not seen by the December 31, the hospitals will miss the Government's 13-week standard for outpatients and six-month wait for inpatients to be admitted for treatment.

The figures were released at the same time as new Department of Health data showed Ipswich Hospital cancelled 78 operations in the last quarter (July to September) at the last minute while West Suffolk Hospital cancelled 46.

Both hospitals however had fewer cancelled operations in the last quarter compared to July to September 2004, which saw 105 and 98 cancellations respectively. James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston, also saw cancellations drop from 68 in 2004/5 to 48 in 2005/6.

The number of patients currently waiting to be seen has worried MPs but hospital bosses insist they remain on course to hit the targets.

Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP John Gummer said he would be contacting Ipswich Hospital immediately for an explanation on how it would clear the backlog.

“It's becoming increasingly impossible to believe any figures produced at all,” he said.

“What worries me is if these figures are right, it seems a pretty tough job. We are already in November and very nearly in December. It seems to me extremely difficult.

“I don't understand how they will deliver this. A high proportion don't have appointments. A lot of my constituents will have been waiting a long time for important appointments. It's very worrying indeed.”

But Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said: “We are on target to meet the national requirement.

“Everyone who needs an inpatient treatment or routine operation is to be seen by the end of December 2005. Everyone needs first an outpatient appointment and most will be seen within 12 weeks.”

A West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust spokesman said all the inpatient operations were due to be carried out before December 31 and within the six-month waiting time target, while those waiting to see a consultant after being referred by a GP were also due to be seen within the 13-weeks.

“We are pleased the number of operations being cancelled is falling but sometimes the cancelling of surgical procedures cannot be avoided,” he said.

“As far as surgical procedures are concerned, the West Suffolk Hospital is meeting all of its statutory targets and its performance compares favourably with other hospitals in the area.”

But Bury St Edmunds Tory MP David Ruffley questioned how the hospital would meet the targets with the proposed cuts and closures in the healthcare system.

“There is a crisis raging in our county's health service and we need more honesty and straight-talking then we have had so far.”

Dr Janet Massey, secretary of the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association, added: “How do you clear that number? They could open the clinic and have it open all day and all night which American Hospital's do, I don't know?

“With the inpatients, having cut down the beds, I would think they would have a problem in getting people out?”

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