Hospital boss warns of up to 18-month wait for elective surgeries

Suffolk covid cases: Nick Hulme, who runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, has warned people not to

Ipswich and Colchester hospitals boss Nick Hulme said intensive units still remain under pressure from Covid-19 - Credit: Rachel Edge

Patients could be forced to wait as long as 18 months for elective surgery at two local hospitals as staff continue to recover from the last coronavirus peak.

Nick Hulme, chief executive at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), said both Ipswich and Colchester Hospital face a "huge" challenge in working through the thousands-long waiting list.

The admission comes after the hospital put elective surgeries on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, with staff from across both sites focusing on aiding patients suffering from Covid-19.

Mr Hulme said while the trust is looking at getting patients seen as quickly as possible, pressures remain on both hospital's intensive therapy units (ITUs) – which are seeing double the number of patients they would expect for this time of year. 

That added pressure, he explained, is seeing seconded staff unable to return to operation theatres or recovery wards.

Mr Hulme said: "There is a huge amount of work to do to get through the thousands of patients on waiting list, with some of those patients having already had surgeries cancelled twice in the last 12 months.

"It will be a long period of between a year to 18 months until we start to make a real dent.

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"I know it isn't what people want to hear, but I have to be honest and say that people expecting care within weeks will probably now have to wait a number of months."

Mr Hulme added the hospitals are continuing to contact patients on the waiting list and are aiming to prioritise those in need of more immediate support.

Private hospitals have also been offering support.

He said: "We are trying to contact as many patients as we possibly can to make sure they are okay and have had no significant deterioration in their health – if they have, we are speaking to clinicians to change the priority for those patients.

"It is going to be huge. I've been around a long time and remember the really bad times in the 90s when people had to wait up to two years for operations.

"We are not there yet, but we are looking at waiting times which a lot of people won't remember being that long. It is going to be a really big challenge, especially of course as we have more patients being added to the list, some of which are more urgent."

Nurses hold a meeting on a Covid-19 ward. Picture: PA

Mr Hulme has also called for nurses and other hospital staff to have a well-earned break - Credit: PA

Mr Hulme added he also wants his staff to take a well-earned break.

"Where possible, I am keen to give our staff a time for reflection and a time for recovery," he said. "It won't be the case of finishing with coronavirus completely on a Friday and starting surgeries on the Monday.

"A lot of people have not taken their break and it is so important that we ensure people get the break they deserve.

"The same goes for those who have kept going under the wire, our keyworkers who have been out there in the community keeping us fed or delivering our food."