Hospitals plan 'super weekends' to combat 'longest ever' waiting lists

Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals with Nick Hulme chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Fou

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Nick Hulme - Credit: Archant

"Super weekends" and mobile theatres could help cut Ipswich and Colchester hospitals' long list of patients waiting for surgery following the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic meant many operations and surgeries had to be cancelled while the hospitals dealt with the national health emergency.

The number of people waiting more than a year for elective surgery across Ipswich, Felixstowe and Colchester hospitals has risen from fewer than 20 people before lockdown to 3,500 now.

Ipswich and Colchester hospitals chief executive Nick Hulme said it was the largest waiting list he has ever seen.

But now, the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System has been awarded £10million by the government to become an "accelerator site" in a bid to slash waiting times for inpatients, day cases and outpatients. 

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As well as taking part in the national trials, the trust is also looking at operating so-called "super weekends", a board of governors meeting at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) - which runs the hospitals - was told.

The weekends would see staff support bolstered in a bid to help provide care to a higher volume of patients, as seen during the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. 

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A mobile "Vanguard" theatre will also be stationed at Ipswich Hospital, providing three months of additional theatre capacity for nearby West Suffolk Hospital while infrastructure works there continue, as well as nine months for ESNEFT.

Partnerships with Oaks Hospital and Nuffield Hospital will also continue, while bed space would be improved by expanding into previously non-clinical areas.

Overall, a 98-week waiting time target is likely to be proposed, while the national target is likely to be 104 weeks.

Mr Hulme said the funding will help "really drive the recovery agenda" at the two hospitals.

He said: "Our waiting lists are longer than I have ever seen them in my career – going back to what we saw in the early to mid 1990s with waiting lists of up to two years. So this is a really significant agenda for the government and indeed the NHS. 

"It is great that we have been chosen as a system to have that additional £10m invested in ourselves and at West Suffolk Hospital.

"It will benefit local people, we will see a much quicker recovery of our elective waiting times than anywhere else in the country, along with the other nine areas chosen.

"When we went into the first lockdown, we had less than 20 people waiting more than 52 weeks – we now have 3,500. That gives you some idea of the scale of the challenge we face."

Mr Hulme said he pleaded with the prime minister last week to "please stop giving us money" – highlighting that while the NHS does require more staff, theatres and outpatient space, the most important factor is transformation.

"If we just spend money without transformation then we are just going to grow the waiting lists again," he said.

"Most importantly, we need transformation.

"Those of you who know the NHS well will know we deliver fantastic 21st century healthcare, but often out of 1960s processes – there has never been that burning ambition to redesign the we deliver healthcare in the absence of competition."

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