During the pandemic, the number of patients waiting much longer than we would like for their treatment grew for multiple reasons. However, thanks to the incredible hard work of NHS staff in Norfolk and Waveney, the number of patients who have been waiting two years or longer for scans, checks and surgical procedures has now been virtually eliminated.
The NHS Elective Recovery Plan, published in February 2022, set out how the NHS would tackle the backlog that built up as a result of the pandemic. It focussed first on treating those patients who had been waiting the longest, setting the ambitious target of eliminating two year waits by July 2022.
In Norfolk and Waveney, the three acute hospitals in our area (the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, James Paget Hospital in Gorleston and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn), have worked incredibly closely with community healthcare colleagues, as well as acute trusts in other areas of the East of England region.
Together, the hospital trusts have ensured that patients with the most severe and urgent conditions are always prioritised, followed by those patients who have been waiting the longest.
They have agreed to balance the waiting times evenly for all patients across Norfolk and Waveney. This means there will be better ‘equity of access’ regardless of which hospital the patient is under, and that patients will not be waiting significantly shorter or longer waits for treatment.
To do this, the hospital trusts have supported each other by offering suitable patient choice, to have their care at another trust where they have additional capacity. This Mutual Aid supports a smooth transfer of patients from one trust to another in order that patients can be seen and treated more quickly.
The trusts have also shared best practise, learning from each other to be as efficient as possible to increase capacity, and they have worked with independent sector providers where suitable as well.
In addition, trusts have undertaken a validation of their long waiting patients. This helps to keep patients informed about what is happening, but also to ensure that patients with the highest clinical needs are prioritised and that the waiting list is actively managed.
Specialties with the largest backlogs of patients waiting have started working collectively via speciality specific ‘Clinical & Operational Networks’. These Clinical & Operational Networks are in place across all three Trusts in Norfolk and Waveney, sharing ideas and ways of working to help improve efficiency and to enable continued recovery.
Nationally, there were more than 22,500 people who had been waiting two years or more at the start of the year, and a further 51,000 who would have breached two years by the end of July. Both groups of patients have now been treated.
This recovery has been achieved despite unusually high levels of staff absences due in large part to Covid-19 infections, and significant demand for urgent and emergency care services in recent months.
Dr Frankie Swords, Medical Director for NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “Through the hard work and innovation of colleagues across the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System (ICS) there are now no patients waiting two years or more for routine care in our area.
“Delivering this target has only been possible thanks to the hard work of our colleagues, making effective use of all available capacity, and through strengthening our relationships and mutual aid arrangements across healthcare systems to increase opportunities to move patients around where appropriate.”
Caroline Shaw CBE, Chief Executive Officer for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn and Senior Responsible Officer of the Norfolk and Waveney Elective Recovery Board, said: “We are extremely proud of the hard work that all our colleagues have undertaken during incredibly challenging circumstances in order to help meet this ambitious national target.
“Our NHS staff will – as always – go above and beyond to provide expert treatment and care to everyone who needs it and particularly those who have been waiting the longest. While we celebrate this achievement, I would continue to urge anyone that is concerned to come forward for help if they are concerned about their health.”
The next target in the Elective Recovery Plan is to eliminate 78 week waits by April 2023. To help meet this, health leaders in Norfolk and Waveney are working to build more resilience into the NHS by recruiting and retaining staff, and creating more capacity through development of community diagnostic centres, additional elective capacity, and surgical hubs.
Meanwhile, those people that are waiting for a hospital appointment, treatment or surgery are being urged to maintain their health while they wait. Long-awaited treatments may not be able to proceed if a patient’s health has worsened in the lead up to their procedure. NHS Norfolk and Waveney launched its While You Wait programme earlier this year, bringing together health and wellbeing resources and guides to support people to prevent their condition from worsening whilst they wait.
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