Record delays faced at King's Lynn hospital
Patients faced record delays for a range of medical tests at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Lynn, in May, as hospitals across England saw waiting times rocket due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Medical experts warn growing waiting lists could spell trouble in the coming months as lockdown eases and referrals rise, with stark challenges facing health services.
NHS trusts report on wait times for 15 key tests at the end of each month, which are used to diagnose a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancers, heart failure, and hearing problems.
According to NHS rules, after someone is referred for one of the tests, they should have it completed within six weeks.
But NHS England data shows 1,543 patients at the QEH had been waiting longer than that at the end of May.
At 62.6 per cent of those on the waiting list, this was the worst performance for the month since comparable local records began in 2014.
The national standard is that fewer than one per cent of patients should wait six weeks or more.
The previous May, the figure stood at just 161 patients (4.5 per cent).
Of those who were not seen on time, 786 had been on the list at least 13 weeks.
Across England, hospitals saw a massive rise in the number of delays as Covid-19 hit services.
More than 570,000 patients (58.2%) had been waiting six weeks or more at the end of May, the most for any month since the target was introduced in 2008 – a year previously, there were just 43,000.
Imelda Redmond, national director of watchdog Healthwatch England, said the figures were not surprising given the need to focus limited resources on tackling Covid-19.
“However, the rise in the figures shows starkly the challenge facing the NHS,” she added.
“It is therefore vital that the NHS prioritises those with the most urgent and serious needs, as well as those who have been waiting a very long time for a diagnosis."
Dr Rebecca Fisher, from charity the Health Foundation, said the hold-ups “could be storing up trouble” for the health service.
She added: “The number of referrals is likely to rise rapidly in the coming months and the NHS faces a difficult trade-off between keeping staff and patients safe from Covid-19, and ensuring that people don’t come to harm as a result of delays.”
The most common type of test to see delays at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, Trust in May was echocardiography, which is used to spot heart failure – 537 people had been waiting at least six weeks.
This was followed by 376 patients waiting for audiology, which assesses a patient’s hearing and balance.
Another 337 people were held up for an ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves that can detect tumours.
An NHS spokesman said: "Despite responding rapidly to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to ensure over 100,000 patients could receive hospital care, NHS staff also provided more than five million urgent tests, checks and treatment in a safe way during the peak of the virus.”