Nearly 700 patients facing year-long waits for surgery after coronavirus
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Hundreds of NHS patients in Suffolk and north Essex are waiting more than a year for treatment, after the pandemic brought routine surgery to a standstill.
Between March and May, the number of hospital patients waiting 12 months or more for non-emergency operations soared by more than 900%, from 64 to 659.
At Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, total 52-week waits leapt from 49 to 431, with 319 of those based at Ipswich, and 112 at Colchester.
West Suffolk Hospital also saw a spike, with year-long waits jumping from 15 to 228.
That surge is reflected nationally. Surgery was paused for three months during the pandemic, and now it has restarted, hospitals now have a backlog of operations to tackle.
MORE: More midwives and nurses taken on as global pandemic inspires widespread respect for professionBosses at the region’s hospitals said they have been contacting patients waiting for urgent surgery and offering them dates to come in, but encouraged people to see their GP if symptoms worsen.
One Ipswich Hospital patient, who did not want to be named, has waited seven months for her urgent gallbladder operation. A pre-op appointment was cancelled in April due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
In November, she was rushed in via ambulance with colic symptoms and jaundice, and doctors referred her for gall bladder removal surgery due to happen six weeks later.
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Now seven months on from when her operation was planned, the patient said the wait has left her feeling “frightened and frustrated”.
“It’s been a very tough seven months waiting to hear,” she said.
“Being terrified of hospitals, it didn’t help getting a letter with a pre-op date (several months after admission) in March.
“I did ring, but the only reply I got was in April cancelling. So, at the moment, I’m in complete limbo.”
The patient says she is yet to receive any further contact from the hospital.
MORE: Suffolk’s coronavirus infection rate falls below pre-lockdown levelsWorst-hit surgery areas include orthopaedics, with 143 people waiting more than a year at Ipswich and Colchester and just under half (45.8%) seen within the target of 18 weeks.
Orthopaedics was also impacted at West Suffolk Hospital, with 40.6% of patients seen within 18 weeks and 98 people waiting 52 weeks or more.
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of patient group Healthwatch Suffolk, said Covid-19 restrictions meant impacts on waiting times were “unavoidable”.
Chief medical officer at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, Dr Angela Tillett, said a “great deal” of work has been happening to restart clinics and treatments.
“We want to keep all our patients safe and deliver the best treatment and care possible following the Covid-19 surge,” she said.
“We appreciate that waiting lists have risen significantly because of Covid-19, however I want to give reassurance that we have a plan in place for every patient who has been facing a long wait for care.”
To tackle the backlog, bosses are using private hospitals, and are putting on extra clinics and operating sessions.
Helen Beck, executive chief operating officer at West Suffolk Hospital thanked patients for their understanding during “unprecedented times”, and added: “We have been prioritising the most urgent procedures since we restarted surgery at the hospital.
“The extra safety and infection control measures mean the volume of planned surgeries will not get back to the levels they were before Covid-19 for some time, particularly if the number of coronavirus cases start to rise again.”