Hospital failing to meet targets

THOUSANDS of Ipswich Hospital patients could be sent elsewhere for treatment because it is unable to cope with national targets.

Rebecca Lefort

THOUSANDS of Ipswich Hospital patients could be sent elsewhere for treatment because it is unable to cope with national targets.

Sustained failures to treat people quickly enough mean the hospital is coming under intense pressure from health bodies to improve its performance.

So it is taking drastic steps to tackle the problem, including outsourcing patients to other hospitals - both private and NHS - increasing doctors' workloads, and bringing in foreign medics to carry out operations.

The changes, which amount to more than �5million in additional costs for the hospital, would see more than 1,300 patients treated at other hospitals, including West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, Addenbrooke's and Papworth in Cambridgeshire and Ipswich's Nuffield Hospital.

Ipswich Hospital, which has also transformed its private ward into an NHS unit in a bid to tackle the backlog, is supposed to treat 90% of patients within 18 weeks of referral, but in April it only managed 84.3%.

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In March the hospital was forced to apologise personally to 21 patients who waited more than six months for treatment. But the Heath Road site has now admitted that unless performance improves nearly 550 people could face waits of half a year by the end of August.

It came up with a remedial action plan to tackle the problem which would have seen it back on track by the end of September, but its commissioners, NHS Suffolk and the East of England Strategic Health Authority, instead demanded the hospital met the targets by the end of July.

Jan Rowsell, Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman, admitted improving by then was a “major challenge”.

She added: “We are completely committed to delivering the shortest waiting times for the community we serve and we are giving it our best efforts.

“My colleagues are working flat out to achieve this.

“We want to do our best to honour patient choice but we hope people would understand that we want to get them treated as quickly as possible. Patients have been extremely supportive and are bearing with us.”

Ms Rowsell added that patients treated outside the hospital represented only a small proportion of the 70,000 elective operations carried out on the site each year, and stressed that any doctors coming from abroad to work in the hospital would be subject to rigorous checks.

Health campaigner Prue Rush said: “The staff work extremely hard, but it doesn't sound like the hospital is coping.

“This hospital is not failing in the quality of care, but it is the quantity they are now able to provide within the current time limits.

“It will cause deep concern among those of us who use the hospital and have a deep respect for those that work there.”

Tracy Dowling, director of strategic commissioning at NHS Suffolk, who used to work at Ipswich Hospital, said: “The 18-week referral to treatment time is the national maximum time to wait before receiving hospital treatment, after a referral from a GP.

“Achieving these standards is about providing high quality healthcare services, and Suffolk patients deserve to receive their diagnosis and treatment within these standards.

“It is our job to ensure that Suffolk's healthcare providers are able to consistently meet these standards - so that people in Suffolk receive the level of care they should expect from their local NHS. We are working closely with Ipswich Hospital and other partners to make sure this happens.”