NHS backlogs could take up to two years to clear, says Yorkshire health chief

NHS officials have spoken about their preparations for winter but warned it could take two years to clear backlogs of year or longer waits for treatment.

East Riding councillors heard hospitals were working to put on more beds, do more procedures without overnight stays and send patients to sites with more capacity.

Jacqueline Myers, a director at Humber Coast and Vale which coordinates local health services, said preparations came as demand was rising faster than officials expected.

But she added work to clear year or longer waiting backlogs could take two years while returning to normal could take many more without extra funding for the NHS.

Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust (HUTH) has begun ‘over recruiting’ to deal with staff shortages

It comes as councillors heard staff had no respite ahead of winter, with Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Trust official Ab Diabo saying seeing staff “in tears” was becoming increasingly common.

He added that while recruitment efforts had been stepped up, many were seeking early retirement or were looking to move out of the sector entirely.

The committee heard Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust (HUTH) had begun ‘over recruiting’, taking on nurses before vacancies opened so they could fill them if they emerged.

Councillors heard around 17,000 patients across the (HUTH), York and Scarborough (Y&S) and North Lincolnshire and Goole trusts (NLAG) had waited a year or more for treatment by March.

The total of those waiting a year or more for treatment and procedures fell to 8,717 by August, according to a report submitted to the Health, Care and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee.

But the report also showed the amount of people on waiting lists overall had grown from 30,355 to 32,601 at NLAG and 30,069 to 33,187 at Y&S from April to August.

The equivalent figures for HUTH fell from 60,422 to 56,981.

The report warned staffing was currently the “most significant” pressure facing local health services.

The report stated: “Whilst it is hoped that further progress can be made to reduce long waits over the next six months, it is anticipated that it will take a number of years to completely clear the backlog.

“There are a small number of patients who have waited more than two years, these waits relate to a small number of specialities under extreme pressure, for example the plastic surgery service at HUTH.

“The Trusts have set out plans to eliminate these very long waits by the end of March 2022, although they note a number of risks to this plan if coronavirus and acute demand is even higher than anticipated over the winter period.

Councillors heard trusts were offering more waiting patients extra appointments to monitor their progress until they could be brought in for procedures.

Ms Myers said NHS trusts were currently focusing on getting patients who have waited the longest treated first while also looking at those in the most deprived areas.

She added cancer patients and those requiring treatment within four weeks of a diagnosis were also being prioritised.

The official also said only around half of Humber Coast and Vale patients waiting for treatment took up an offer to go to Bridlington Hospital.

The director said: “The pressure at GP practices is knocking on to emergency departments, we’ve got more patients knocking on the front door of A and E as a result of rising demand.

“We think some of it is held back demand from lockdowns, GPs and hospitals saw reduced referrals and people may not have felt comfortable going.

“The difficulty is that waiting times are longer than they could be everywhere, there’s no oasis of capacity.

“We’re trying to give ambulance crews more options as to where they go, for instance taking patients to a GP or getting an urgent treatment nurse to them rather than going to A and E.

“Hull Royal Infirmary is looking at setting up an on site urgent treatment centre staffed by GPs so patients have somewhere else to go.

“There’s also a huge amount of work being done on staff welfare and support who will be going into winter without any respite.

“There’s a resilience hub for them and staff are being encouraged to take leave so they’re not tired for winter. We’re also working with some of them on working extra hours within reason, but without burning them out.”