Northumbumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s board gave a picture of the situation at its latest meeting, when the country is turning its attention to recovering from Covid-19 amid the ongoing success of the vaccination programme.
Despite concerns about the spread of the latest coronavirus variant, not least in North Tyneside, Sir James Mackey, the Trust’s chief executive, noted that positive cases and hospitalisations remain low across the region.
However, emergency department attendances have now returned to the levels seen before the pandemic and healthcare partners across the North East and Cumbria are continuing to urge the public to think pharmacy, GP and 111 first and only attend A&E or call 999 if you have serious or life-threatening emergencies.
The meeting also heard that primary care is extremely busy as well, with the number of GP appointments nationally in March 20 per cent higher than they were in February.
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Sir James emphasised that the Trust is looking forward, with a focus on clearing the Covid backlog and plans being put in place for winter 2021/22.
The recovery effort was underlined during an update to the meeting from the Clinical Support and Cancer Services Business Unit, which highlighted that there is no Covid backlog in the Trust’s radiology services, with waiting times remaining on target.
But there have been some months recently where one of the national targets relating to cancer waiting times have not been met.
A Trust spokesperson said: “With fewer patients visiting GPs during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw an increased number of referrals at the back end of last year and early part of 2021, which has led to some months where the target for 85 per cent of patients to have started treatment within 62 days has not been met.
“However, our performance has always been around 80 per cent or higher, comfortably above the national average of 75 per cent and is among the very best in the region.
"Our average performance over the past 12 months is above target at 85.65 per cent.
“Regardless, cancer waiting times remain a key area of focus for the Trust and our priorities for this year include efforts to increase oncology day unit capacity and to develop an acute oncology seven-day service.”
In relation to new developments, the meeting also received an update on the construction of a new sterilisation facility for medical equipment on the site of the Northumbria hospital in Cramlington, which is required as the Trust’s current sterilisation facilities are coming to the end of their life.
This £8million scheme, which is the first by the Trust to be net-zero in carbon emissions, is on track to be completed next month and then start operating in July/August.
This is among a range of new projects in various stages of development, including the new hospital in Berwick, which are made possible thanks to Northumbria Healthcare’s strong financial performance.
A report to the board on the draft financial performance for 2020/21 revealed a surplus of £3.8million despite the impact of the pandemic.