The number of Islanders facing a year-long wait for surgery at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust is coming down but a health boss has warned progress could soon plateau and waiting lists could start to grow again.
As a result of the COVID pandemic, waiting lists for elected surgery spiked at the start of the year, with more than 1,000 people waiting for procedures. Between May 2020 and February 2021 the 52-week waiting list rocketed by a staggering 1,839% — from 56 people in May to 1,086 just 9 months later.
Elective treatments were halted nationally to stop the spread of COVID infections and to focus resources elsewhere but significant backlogs built up and trusts are only just starting to make a dent in the lists.
At the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, after hitting a high in March of 1,128, the number of patients waiting has been coming down, month on month, with latest figures showing 184 people were treated in April taking it down to 944 with the number falling further to around 750 in May.
Chief operating officer at the trust, Joe Smyth, said good progress has been made on the recovery of waiting lists which will help people receive treatment quicker.
Despite the ‘huge gains’ in May, however, Mr Smyth cautioned the trust board that while the lists had gone down very quickly to begin with, the progress would ‘plateau’. He said:
“The total incompletes [number of people on the waiting list] is actually going up as people start to bounce back in.
“Of course we are getting the long waits down but that doesn’t mean we are winning the battle with the overall number, so that remains a caution.”
Maggie Oldham, trust chief executive, said waiting lists were not just numbers, they are people who have been waiting a long time for treatment and that the Truat must do all they can to ensure they are treated as quickly as possible.
She went on to say:
“The emergence of new variants of Covid-19 and the threat of a third wave of infections on the Isle of Wight presents a risk to the future delivery of this work.”
When questioned whether people were prioritised on the waiting lists due to health inequalities on the Island, a practice used by other trusts in the country, Mr Smyth said it could be a situation where you are ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. He said:
“I would be concerned about taking people out of date order because we have so many cases.
“Last week, I spoke to an 86-year-old gentleman who is waiting for a hernia operation. He is not urgent by any means but when I spoke to him about the potential he would be waiting 18 months for a procedure that for him is a considerable length of time to be waiting.”