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West Suffolk Hospital diagnosis backlogs to take months to get back on track

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The chief operating officer of the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) has spoken about backlogs in cancer diagnosis at a board meeting last week.

Helen Beck was asked about two week, 62 day and 104 day performance standards after it was revealed Covid had significantly impacted how long people were waiting to be diagnosed.

While there was no delay in treating patients once a diagnosis was confirmed, in December, it was revealed the trust’s two week diagnosis performance was at 72 per cent with the national standard at 93 per cent, its 62 day was at 69.4 per cent compared to 85 per cent and there were 47 patients waiting more than 104 days.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds (44897434)
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds (44897434)

Asked about the endoscopy service, which has the most significant delays, she said: “We first need to get on top of the two-week wait standard rapidly. We were slow to come out of the first wave of Covid, what we needed to do when we came out was a complete overhaul.

“We were on track to deliver the two-week wait standard by the end of January but unfortunately we then got hit by the next wave”

During the first wave, national guidance was to do no endoscopy, other than life-saving emergency work, which the chief operating officer said created a problem nationally and locally.

With endoscopy staff who were redeployed to help with the pandemic response now returning to the unit she hoped they could now increase capacity.

She said: “We are probably two to three months before we can reliably say we can deliver the two-week standard.

“However during that period of time I expect to be able to see step changes and improvements quite quickly along the way.”

In terms of Covid regionally, Ms Beck said: “The critical care position is still above the baseline capacity that we had pre-Covid and therefore we have to be quite careful.

“Our critical care unit earlier this week consolidated back into one unit, which does make it easier for the staff and easier for them to work as one team.”

On how the trust was going to restart hospital services, she said local plans were being developed and that she did not know what ‘financial envelope’ it would be working with to recover them.

She said: “We do not have a national steer on what resetting and recovering waiting times might look like, other than a real exhortation in that we need to treat patients in clinical priority order and high clinical priority patients first.”

Asked how plans would be communicated out to patients, the chief operating officer said they would be communicated regionally from the Clinical Commissioning Groups and the trust.

In the chief executive’s report, Dr Steve Dunn said its staff vaccination programme had seen more than 15,000 staff being given their first jab.