Community healthcare trust admits waiting times are ‘not acceptable’ amid recruitment struggles

Norwich Community Hospital, NCHC headquarters. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Norwich Community Hospital, NCHC headquarters. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Waiting times for three services at the county's community health trust have been branded too long.

Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC) offers community-based services around the county, such as district nursing and speech and language therapy.

But three problem areas were in physiotherapy in the west of the county, children's continence treatment, and neurodevelopmental services, which includes the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The aim is for patients for all services to be seen within 18 weeks, but across the trust 1,272 patients had been waiting longer than this when papers were published ahead of last week's board of directors meeting.

Some 205 of those were on the waiting list for physiotherapy and a report said 'long standing capacity issues' combined with taking on patients from the Upwell Health Centre had caused the delays.

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Documents also said the service had problems bringing in and keeping staff.

NCHC took over at Upwell in October after it was reported the service had been 'unsatisfactory for some time'.

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And previous board papers showed how even though NCHC was told there would be around 30 patients transferred over, the true figure was actually 117, piling on extra pressure.

In neurodevelopmental services 254 patients had been waiting more than 18 weeks in March - but a further 109 had been waiting more than a year for an appointment.

The service was reported to have booked appointments for all those who have waited more than a year, and they would be seen before June 17.

There were also issues in the children's specialist continence service, where just 38.2pc of young patients were seen within 18 weeks, when the target was 92pc.

Eight out of the 10 formal medical complaints received by the trust from January to the end of March were over long waiting times.

For every patient who waits more than a year, the trust is fined £5,000 and commissioners can also charge NCHC for over 18-week waits if things do not improve.

NCHC said it was committed to providing services 'as timely a way as possible'.

A spokesman said: 'We recognise that the current waiting times in the west of the county for musculoskeletal physiotherapy are not acceptable and offer our sincere apologies to anyone who has waited longer than expected. The issue is due to difficulties recruiting physiotherapists, which forms part of a national issue.'

Two physiotherapists have been recruited, while another two posts were still to be filled.

And a musculoskeletal exercise therapy class was being piloted so more patients could be seen.

The spokesman added: 'We have also explored other options including working with other providers to see if they have any capacity as well as looking into offering patients an appointment in south Norfolk as a temporary solution until the recruitment issue is resolved.'

In autism, the vast majority of patients were waiting for an initial assessment.

NCHC's spokesman said: 'A large backlog of assessments built up over the last few years, due to an insufficient staffing resource within the team to meet the demand. Many staff working on assessments also work in neurodevelopmental services, and there has therefore been a small impact on increasing waits because of this. Current recruitment initiatives are in place to address this.'

Commissioners gave NCHC extra funding late last year to plug the staffing gap.

'Waiting times and numbers of people waiting are being very closely monitored by the CCG and NCHC, and are now dropping significantly,' the spokesman added.

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