More than 9,000 patients have had to wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment at a Brighton hospital, according to local watchdog Healthwatch Brighton and Hove.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) is struggling to see patients referred by GPs for non-emergency appointments within the 18 weeks which patients can expect under the NHS Constitution.
More worryingly, said Healthwatch, latest figures indicate that some patients have waited a year for treatment.
BSUH, which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital, is not the only hospital trust where waiting times are becoming an issue.
Not all specialties are affected but Healthwatch B&H has been told by the trust that for adults there are significant waits for appointments and treatment in
- abdominal surgery and medicine
- neurology and neurosurgery
- pain management
- spinal surgery
In pediatric services there are significant waits for appointments and treatment in clinical immunology and allergy, ear nose and throat, rheumatology and urology.
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove has made its concerns known to both BSUH and the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group.
The watchdog is calling for more transparency for patients so that they will have better information about the length of wait they can expect and can make informed choices about their care.
Healthwatch has been asking for a single point of reference at BSUH where patients can easily find out about when they can expect to be treated.
At present there are numerous telephone numbers, depending on a patient’s condition.
As a result of Healthwatch raising the need to provide patients with information about how long they can expect to wait, the hospital has provided two web links to help patients.
It is also looking at other ways it can keep patients up to date on waiting times in different specialties.
Fran McCabe, who chairs Healthwatch Brighton and Hove, said: “While the hospital is giving priority to patients waiting for urgent appointments to be seen within a fortnight and not all specialties are being affected, for everyone else, the waits are unacceptably long.
“People may be suffering, worried and unable to work or carry out daily tasks.
“The trust has told us that they have a tight process in place for the backlog of patients waiting over 18 weeks, which includes active clinical oversight, prioritising people whose needs are greatest and people who have been waiting over a year have been contacted.”
According to the CCG and BSUH, the reasons for long waiting times for appointments are complex and include
The physically restrictive site at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, which is old and not conducive to carrying out more care. While it is now being modernised, which will be good in the longer run, the building work does prohibit some immediate service changes.
There is an ageing population and rising expectations of the public with the potential for more tests and treatments, which is creating more demand.
Alongside many other hospitals, there is a shortage of doctors in some specialties and difficulties in getting temporary cover for gaps.
There have been problems with the booking hub, which have now been addressed, but have also contributed to the build-up of patients waiting for over 18 weeks.
Healthwatch said: “Patients also contribute towards wasting appointment times when they do not turn up for appointments, as their slot could be allocated to another person who needs it.
“BSUH and the CCG have together taken steps to increase the numbers of patients seen.
“These include offering the option of an appointment in other local hospitals, including private ones and those farther afield, where there is less pressure on services.
“Healthwatch has also been told that the trust is streamlining its appointment systems which it has welcomed.
Fran McCabe said: “The scale of the problem means that, even with these initiatives, it is unlikely that the hospital will get back to ‘normal’ and be able to consistently offer an appointment within 18 weeks until the end of next year.”
Healthwatch said that, critically, BSUH is not the only trust in this area with problems and there could be fierce competition for the same scarce resources.
“In addition,” Healthwatch added, “hospital staff and commissioners are spending inordinate amounts of management time troubleshooting which they would rather dedicate to direct patient care.
“The knock-on effect of the delays can impact on busy GP surgeries too. Patients wanting to know what’s happening to their referrals will naturally approach their GPs first, especially if they have continuing unresolved health problems.
“However, if they opt go to A&E instead because they still feel ill, extra pressure is placed on an already overextended department.
“The backlog of over 9,000 people waiting over 18 weeks represents only about a quarter of referrals in the system at any one time.
“Local GPs have been fully briefed about the situation and are being advised by the CCG that people who are being newly referred and are non-urgent may be offered an appointment elsewhere where response times are shorter unless they express a preference to have their treatment at the BSUH hospitals.”
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