Hospital patient waits more than four years for surgery

Sheila Mason died at Ipswich Hospital after a fall at her home in October

A patient at the trust which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals had to wait more than four years for surgery, it has been revealed - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

A patient at the trust which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals had to wait more than four years for surgery, it has been revealed.

Figures acquired through a Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the patient at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) waited 235 weeks for oral surgery.

This comes after dozens of patients across England have been forced to wait for more than three years for pre-planned NHS hospital care and a handful have been waiting for at least four years, according to data from 60 NHS trusts.

West Suffolk Hospital said that a data blunder had shown that a patient at the Bury St Edmunds unit had been waiting for almost six years (300 weeks) when in fact this patient had refused the offer of an MRI scan in 2016 and only been sent a discharge letter in February this year.

Nicola Cottington, chief operating officer for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “We’re sorry to every patient who experiences a delay to their care. It’s still an incredibly busy and challenging time. Our staff are working flat out to tackle the backlog that built up during the pandemic, reduce waiting lists and treat patients as quickly and safely as possible.”

Neill Moloney, managing director at ESNEFT, added: "Our teams are doing all they can to tackle waiting lists and treat our patients in the communities we serve as quickly and safely as possible.

“Waiting lists have undoubtedly increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic response and its ongoing impact, but we do not want anyone to be in pain, or waiting, any longer than necessary.

“We are working hard to reduce the backlog at our Trust, including this longest wait in oral and maxillofacial surgery, and we are prioritising patients based on clinical need, in line with national guidance for all NHS trusts."

Ipswich Hospital

Ipswich hospital is run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

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Leading surgeons described the figures as “shocking” and warned that prolonged waits for pre-planned care could lead to “emotional and physical distress”.

NHS leaders said that the are doing “all they can” to dig into the backlogs of care but efforts have been hampered by pressures on the emergency care system, Covid cases and high rates of staff absences on top of severe workforce shortages.

The latest official figures from NHS England show that a total of 23,778 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of January – around nine times the 2,608 people who were waiting longer than two years in April 2021.

While there could be important caveats behind the data – such as patients choosing to delay their care for personal reasons – the figures suggest that many patients have been left waiting in pain or have been suffering for years.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the news agency: “It is shocking that people have been waiting years for planned NHS hospital treatment. Waiting in limbo for a planned hip, hernia or ear operation can cause real emotional and physical distress.

“Unfortunately, we are hearing from our surgeons that Covid-19 continues to disrupt planned NHS care. This is due to staff being off sick with or testing positive for the virus. Planned operations are also being cancelled because patients have tested positive for the virus.

“This is heart-breaking for patients and very frustrating for surgical teams who desperately want to get planned surgery up and running again. It’s also a reminder that we are not out of the woods yet from the virus.

“It is imperative that NHS staff communicate with patients to keep them informed about how long they will have to wait for planned treatment, and to make sure they are fully supported during this difficult time.”

More than six million people are currently on the waiting list for NHS hospital care.

While waiting lists have risen sharply due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, those waiting more than three years will have entered the waiting list before the pandemic.

The Government and NHS England have set the ambition to eliminate all waits of more than two years, except when it is the patient’s choice, by July 2022.

The NHS in England is due to publish its latest waiting times data on Thursday.