Although COVID cases in Lincolnshire hospitals have now reduced they still have a lot of work to do to restore services to the same level they were before the pandemic.
As a result United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) and NHS Lincolnshire Clinical Commissiong Group are working closely together to restore hospital services across the county as quickly as possible, and to address waiting times experienced by patients waiting for time-critical surgery.
A particular focus is on elective care (planned specialist medical care or surgery as opposed to emergency treatment), since many services were stood down last year to release theatre staff to support the increased demand on local intensive care units due to COVID-19.
The number of people in Lincolnshire waiting for treatment in March 2020 was 52,000, this has now risen to around 65,000, say health bosses. In March last year they had just seven patients who had been waiting at least a year for a procedure, they now have 3,856. Approximately 1,800 of these patients are waiting for treatment in ULHT hospitals, and the remainder are waiting for treatment out of county or from other providers.
In 2013/14, NHS England set an operational standard to ensure that no-one waits more than 52 weeks for treatment. In March 2020, after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, non-urgent elective activity was postponed to free up inpatient and critical care capacity which has resulted in the increase.
The trust says they are working closely with providers of care across Lincolnshire, to restore services and treat as many patients as they can, recognising the continued social distancing measures that impact ability to treat patients in the way they have done previously.
Simon Evans, ULHT Chief Operating Officer said: “We realise that this is a difficult time, especially for those people who are still waiting for treatment, and we apologise for the distress this may have caused. We are doing everything in our power to address this and to introduce initiatives that will make a major contribution to reduce the length of time people are waiting.”
Once referred to hospital, a patient will receive a letter from the National E-Referral System or from the hospital directly. If they have not received any correspondence within four to six weeks of referral, they can check on the NHS app (free to download) or contact their GP Practice to check they have been referred in the first instance.
Referrals are then reviewed by consultants within the hospital and patients are prioritised according to their clinical condition. While waiting, should a patient’s symptoms deteriorate, the NHS are advising them to contact the hospital they have been referred to so a specialist can review their changing symptoms and their referral letter. Once a patient is referred, GP practices cannot help ‘speed up’ referrals or have them dealt with any quicker, however they may be able to support with symptom management while patients wait for their appointment.
Should a patient need to discuss their hospital appointment, there is a contact number on the hospital letter they have been given, or alternatively there are central numbers available below.
Bosses insist the NHS has never been a ‘COVID-19 only’ service during the pandemic and many services have continued as near to normal as possible.
They said: “Most of our local population, particularly those whose appointments and procedures have been postponed, have been supportive, patient and understanding of the changes which have had to be made over the last year. Our staff, who have gone above and beyond for more than a year now, want to thank people for their patience.