Hospital waiting list of 60,000 will take years to clear, chief says
- Credit: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
The chief at the region's largest hospital has said it will take years to work through its waiting list, with some 60,000 people awaiting treatment.
However, he also said that the number of people being treated for Covid-19 at the hospital had fallen into single figures at the Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital for the first time in months.
Sam Higginson, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, has spoken of the challenges facing the hospital as it comes out of the other side of the second wave of the pandemic.
But a waiting list of 60,000 patients, the chief executive says it will be a "multi-year approach" to tackle the backlog.
In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about:
The second wave
At the peak of the virus's first wave in April the hospital was treating 87 people: in the middle of January it was more than 350.
Critical care bed capacity was increased from 20 beds to 80 beds as the hospital acted as one of two regional surge centres for the east.
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NNUH staff received support from 30 military technicians and critical care staff from James Paget and Queen Elizabeth hospitals.
The centre has now been stood down as patient numbers have fallen below 10, but plans are in place if it is needed again.
Mr Higginson said: "I'm very hopeful that we won't. We need to be prepared for this winter if we have to."
A possible third wave
The chief executive said hospitals had two focuses going forward, preparations for a further wave over the autumn or winter and restoration of services.
He said: "The challenging bit about that is there are so many variables, with the vaccination programme, but also what is happening in Europe, it is hard to tell."
There are now 60,000 people now awaiting treatment at the NNUH.
More than 10,000 people have been waiting for more than 52 weeks, in comparison to 12 months ago the numbers waiting that long were in single figures.
In addition to cancer patients, people that need surgery or intervention within 28 days of which there are just over 1,000.
Mr Higginson said: "The priority over the summer months is really to try and get as many of our patients waiting treated as soon as possible.
"Increasingly we are working with the James Paget and Queen Elizabeth to look at how we might be able to share services to treat patients, the challenging bit about that is they start with a big backlog as well, there is not an easy answer."
Mr Higginson said the impact of future waves could play a part in prolonging waiting times further and the trust continues to work with Spire and other independent providers to meet its surgical demands.
He added: " We will have to think of it as a multi-year approach."
Three key projects are under way on the Colney Road site including a £6.5m pediatric theatre complex for children which aims to be completed by the autumn.
Mr Higginson said a "considerable proportion" of the waiting list were children, adding: "In some ways, they are a group I am most worried about because for a child waiting a long time, to me that should feel that is a priority."
The hospital has also invested in the development of a walk-in day procedure unit, which will be able to facilitate simpler day surgeries and updated diagnostic equipment to see patients on the waiting list that do not require surgery but are awaiting CT or MRI scans.
What could have been done differently?
The NNUH boss said the pandemic had allowed services to be delivered in ways that had not been thought possible such as the creation of a virtual ward.
On what the trust could have done differently, Mr Higginson said the design of the hospital building did not help in some ways as it had no separate surgical facility on the site.
He said: "We have managed to do some of that working with the Spire but if we had that facility I think it would have allowed us to keep the waiting list at a lower level."
Heading into the future he said it was important people continued to follow infection control measures.
He said: "It [coronavirus] isn't something we can say we've done that and we can move on. Many of the social distancing, the cleaning of your hands, the infection control measures that are necessary will have to continue for some time."
The trust has vaccinated all of its staff and a proportion of the general population, nearing 37,000 vaccines in total.
Mr Higginson said he was hopeful the programme will mean trusts do not see the level of pressures seen or the winter and urged the public when asked to get their vaccination.