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Patients facing ‘exceptional’ waiting times for treatments at Cambridge University Hospitals

Patients are waiting an “exceptionally long time” for treatment at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Addenbrooke's Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell (52272430)
Addenbrooke's Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell (52272430)

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many people across the country having their operations, treatment and appointments cancelled or delayed to free up inpatient and critical care capacity.

While this helped medical staff respond to the crisis, it has resulted in a huge backlog of people waiting for treatment.

CUH, which runs Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, says it is committed to doing all it can to support those whose treatment has been delayed or deferred and reduce waiting lists while dealing with hugely high demand for its emergency department.

The latest data shows that the number of people waiting for routine operations and procedures in England is at its highest level since 2007 – currently at 5.45 million.

Speaking at the CUH’s recent annual public meeting, Sue Broster, the trust’s interim director of improvement and transformation and formerly deputy medical director, said: “I think it’s fair to say in my medical career both as a doctor as well as in this role, I don’t think I’ve ever seen waiting lists the length they are now.”

She continued: “I think that’s something that concerns us, all the patients are waiting an exceptionally long time and what it means for them.”

CUH chair Dr Mike More added the trust is “systematically trying to understand the impact of delay and deferral on anxiety”, and on the “ongoing consideration of support to patients” whose treatment is being deferred.

Local health and care champion Healthwatch Cambridgeshire says the impact of waiting for treatment can be huge, potentially leaving patients in pain and affecting both their physical and mental health, ability to work and perform day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning, shopping and caring for others.

Ms Broster said there is a “real intention” to communicate with patients on the waiting list “on a relatively regular basis” and in some cases directly with clinicians to “really understand the impact” of the delays.

Those most at risk are patients with long-term conditions, with priority given to those with life-threatening or potentially life-limiting conditions or illnesses.

“There is a process in place now within the trust to really look at the long waits, particularly those for operations and the patients who have really life-threatening illnesses or potentially life limiting, they remain prioritised and that continues and the surgeons and the theatres are working at full strength,” she said.

Ms Broster added: “It’s the patients who have really impactful long-term conditions who we know can be waiting really huge amounts of time compared to previously and understanding what that means for them becomes really important.”

She pledged to “work with the clinical teams who really understand their patients to understand what that impact is, and help us make an assessment with their clinical teams, with GPs and our system partners about whether we need to reprioritise or reorganise where they are on that waiting list to try and treat them differently, treat them earlier”.

She added: “It remains a priority for us to try and work to reduce the waiting list as quickly as possible, so not just looking at what we can do here but how we can work more widely across the system so there is capacity elsewhere that we can use, and vice versa here for different specialties.”

Sue Broster
Sue Broster

She said the trust would use virtual technology where it could to allow patients contact with their clinicians but stressed that would not replace all face-to-face appointments “and certainly isn’t a replacement for an operation”.

Responding to a question from Healthwatch Cambridgeshire, Ms Broster added: “I’d say if you think there’s more we can do that we’re not yet doing, or if the things that you’ve seen been done really well elsewhere that we aren’t, then we’d be really keen to look at that because it remains a real priority for us.”

Last month, the Cambridge Independent learned that the hospital’s emergency department is dealing with an average of around 360 patients per day, which is above pre-Covid levels.

Roland Sinker, chief executive at CUH, said at the meeting: “We’ve also faced some really significant challenges. We’ve got a lot of things right, we’ve also got some things wrong, and we’re very much going to take those things forward so significant challenges for us are the pressure. We are facing very high levels of emergency demand for people wanting to come to the emergency department. And at the same time, we’re thinking very hard about how we can do all we can to treat people in outpatients and people who are waiting for their surgery, complex surgery or less complex low acuity surgery.”

Dr More added: “Many of you will know, and will have seen what for us are distressing pictures of, for example, the pressures in A&E in the hospital. These aren’t things that we take lightly or regard as acceptable.

“We know that these are areas where patients’ experience is not what we would want them to be. But we also know that we need to work with all of the system, primary care, community care and other partners in order to try and create sustainable solutions to these very challenging problems.”

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