Hospital reveals plan to tackle cancer treatment backlog

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital executives Chris Cobb and Erika Denton

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital executives Chris Cobb and Erika Denton have spoken of pressure on services, including rise in cancer referrals. - Credit: NNUH/Getty

Norfolk's largest hospital will put on hundreds of additional clinics and use the independent health sector after experiencing "unmanageable levels" of cancer referrals. 

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital saw under half of patients within two weeks of a suspected cancer diagnosis in June, impacted by a significant rise in breast cancer referrals, which have exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 200 per month. 

The Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital sign. Picture: Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital

The Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital sign. Picture: Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital - Credit: Norfolk and Norfolk University Hospital

In June, there were 731 patients who were not seen within two weeks, up from 448 in May.

Staff had worked every weekend for six weeks between February and March after a rise in referrals earlier this year, but health bosses said the trust has seen an "extraordinary" number once again.

The trust's urgent cancer waiting list is now just under 4,000 patients, having grown from a pre-Covid sized list of 2,900. 

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer, told Wednesday's board meeting that the trust would be using the independent sector and a further 10 weeks of additional support to tackle the backlog. 

This includes 700 extra one stop breast clinic slots in August. 

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. Pic: Archant

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant


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Mr Cobb said: "All that work has just been overwhelmed by another influx of referrals we have a backlog to work through."

He added that "nobody was prepared" for the "sheer volume" or referrals, with the team having dug in address the backlog.

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He said: "We have a good response and a good plan in place."

Two-week referral levels reached "unmanageable levels" in June as well, in skin and lower gastrointestinal cancer referrals. 

The trust also has 279 people who have been waiting more than 62 days and 55 people waiting more than 104 days for treatment. 

The hospital has seen further pressures with patients going to A&E with concerns they have Covid or Long Covid.

Erika Denton, medical director at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Erika Denton, medical director at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Erika Denton, medical director, reiterated the importance of using the NHS website and 111. 

She said: “We encourage our population to use the routes NHS have put in place. 

"You should not go anywhere where you interact with other people if you think you might have Covid amd you need to book a test before you interact with other people. You have to isolate if you have symptoms as does your family and those who live with." 

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