Tens of thousands waiting more than a year for hospital treatment
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
Health bosses have urged people awaiting operations to ease their pain through services such as physiotherapy amid mounting backlogs.
As the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment in Norfolk and Waveney is now the fifth-longest in the country, health bosses say seeking help through underused services could provide comfort in the short term in the wake of "dire" figures.
Latest NHS figures show that as of April 12,615 patients were waiting more than a year for procedures, though figures from the CCG in May said this figure stood at more than 13,000.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the region's largest trust, has more than 10,000 patients waiting over 12 months for treatment, while the James Paget University Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have 1,114 and 1,288 respectively.
Alex Stewart, chief executive of the group Healthwatch Norfolk, said it was not looking good for the "immediate future" and that patients requiring non-urgent procedures such as hip and knee replacements may be able to seek physiotherapy help in the short term.
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Orthopaedic procedures make up for a third of the figure, but Mr Stewart said the county's ageing population was likely a factor.
He said: "The figures are dire. They would still have been bad even without the pandemic in my opinion but it has definitely had a severe impact.
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"I feel very sorry for the hospitals when they are trying to work incredibly closely together including extra clinics and theatre space. People are going back into overtime mode and there is a danger of staff being exhausted.
"It is not looking good in the immediate future."
Mr Stewart added that it could take up to 2027 to bring waiting list levels back to pre-pandemic, as the national waiting list passed five million for the first time.
The region also has the 11th highest total waiting list with more than 95,000 people awaiting treatment - though figures reported at Norfolk and Waveney's Clinical Commissioning Group's May meeting showed the list was more than 97,000.
The figures for the first time showed how many patients have been waiting more than two years for elective treatment, of which there are 92, including 86 at the NNUH and six at the JPUH.
In addition, further pressure has been faced in A&E, with the NNUH reporting a record-breaking 17,580 patients in May for the first time in its history.
The QEH also recording a new record attendance of 6,949.
Mr Stewart urged patients to consider all options before A&E including seeking help from "underused" services such as pharmacists and using the 111 service, as well as physiotherapists for knee and hip pain.
He said: "I think there are things people can do to help themselves.
"Physiotherapists can help to give the appropriate exercises and alleviate some of the issues that will be caused by waiting. I would urge people to make sure they are still on the waiting list, there are some people because they haven't been called at all, it might be worth checking with the clinics they haven't dropped off."
He urged the hospitals to continue reassuring patients they have not been forgotten and that Healthwatch Norfolk would continue to raise the public's concern and feedback the challenges faced by health bodies - including managing the impact of Brexit on staffing.
During the first wave, all non-urgent elective surgeries were postponed for three months, and for a further month during the second wave at the start of the year.
The Norfolk and Waveney Elective Care Recovery Cell was set up to work on the region's elective transformation project which includes maximising theatre capacity and ways to reduce hospital referrals.
A spokesperson on behalf of the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership said: “The pandemic has had an inevitable impact on the NHS. We are doing everything we can to see and treat people as quickly as possible, according to their clinical need. We recognise how frustrating this is for patients.”