Thousands of routine procedures cancelled or postponed at Northumberland's main NHS trust

New figures point to the extent of the area’s healthcare backlog more than a year into the pandemic, with several thousand routine NHS operations cancelled or postponed in just over 13 months as ministers consider how to tackle the congestion.

By Tommy Greene
Saturday, 28th August 2021, 2:36 pm
Updated Saturday, 6th November 2021, 4:55 pm

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed thousands of routine procedures having been impacted at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, along with thousands of people on lists for MRI scans and other vital radiological checks.

Some 5,737 surgeries were cancelled or postponed in total between March 23, 2020, and April 30, 2021.

Of those impacted procedures, 4,978 were elective operations and 45 were other non-emergency operations.

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Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington, which is run by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Six cancer surgeries were cancelled between January 31, 2021, and May 26, 2021, according to the data provided by the trust. No figures were given for such operations in 2020.

As of May 2, 2021, 1,641 patients were awaiting MRI checks and 1,470 were waiting for CT scans.

More than 6,000 people were waiting for other radiological procedures at the trust by the same date.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 were waiting for endoscopies at the beginning of May, while 411 cancer patients were waiting to get on the two-week investigation pathway by the end of it – on May 28, 2021.

The full extent of the healthcare backlog at the county’s main NHS trust is not known, however, with data provided by the trust only extending to the final week of May 2021 at most.

A ‘third Covid wave’, driven by a surge in cases associated with the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, saw infections sky-rocket in Northumberland and across the wider region earlier this year, with eight of the 10 local authority areas with the highest case rate in July being in the North East.

Health and Social Care Select Committee Chair and former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has suggested that a new ‘health levy’ tax may need to be introduced in order to raise the necessary funds to resolve the backlog.

Northumbria Healthcare Trust pointed out that it has carried out nearly 15,000 operations or other healthcare procedures since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Dr Eliot Sykes, Northumbria Healthcare’s surgical business unit director, said: “Providing the best care for our patients is at the heart of everything we do and a rigorous approach to infection control along with increased day case surgery and making the best use of facilities has helped keep waiting lists and times as short as possible during the past year.

“We carried out more than 14,500 procedures or operations during the pandemic and are currently leading the way nationally in terms of our elective performance.

“In relation to day case surgery, we’re doing around three times as many of these short, low-length-of-stay operations as other areas, making sure patients get timely treatment before getting back home as soon as possible.

“We have been able to do a large proportion of our elective activity compared to last year while urgent cancer operations, trauma surgery and orthopaedic surgery have never stopped.”

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