Royal Stoke begs for cash as 867 patients languish on post-Covid waiting list backlog

Hospital bosses say they need extra investment to completely eliminate 15-month waits for treatment by September. There were 867 patients waiting more than 65 weeks for treatment at University Hospitals of North Midlands in March, the lowest number since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Managers are currently planning to reduce the number of 65-week waits to zero by September, as part of efforts to bring down UHNM's huge post-Covid backlog. But the trust board was told that this would only be achievable if funding was secured to expand the endoscopy service - which has been one of the biggest factors limiting capacity.

Chief operating officer Simon Evans said that while the trust expected to see its overall waiting list reduce over the course of this year, further work was needed with specialties such as gastroenterology, respiratory and ear, nose and throat. He said: "Our expectations to deliver by September align with workforce and finance, but we have more work to do in terms of the improvement on those specialties.

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"With endoscopy we are starting to see some productivity improvements, particularly around booking and working with external support. But we are going to need the investment in endoscopy to right-size us to the demand we will be getting, but also to reduce the overall waiting list.

"We have been in discussion with NHS England about support for an endoscopy case which is over and above our normal tariff arrangement, and we're just waiting to hear back on the regional financial position. There's a verbal support from the West Midlands Cancer Alliance, we still haven't had it in writing. For each month that passes without confirmation of that funding, we will not necessarily be delivering the level of capacity required to deliver that September trajectory."

UHNM, which runs the Royal Stoke and the County Hospital, is one of a number of hospital trusts on NHS England's tier one 'help list', due to its high number of long-wait patients and diagnostic performance. Trust chair David Wakefield questioned whether those carrying out this scrutiny at NHS England knew about the issues around endoscopy funding.

He said: "When your performance is being judged, regionally or nationally, are they aware that the money hasn't arrived for you to make the investment?"

Mr Evans confirmed that the issue was being discussed with NHS England on a weekly basis as part of the tier one process.

The total number of patients waiting a year or more for treatment at UHNM increased to 5,185 in March, while those waiting 78 weeks fell to 70. Mr Evans said the trust currently expected to eliminate 78-week waits by June.