Massive waiting lists for treatment at Birmingham hospitals as operations cancelled and staff fall ill

A massive waiting list for hospital treatment is having a “catastrophic impact on patients”, an inquiry has warned.

And health trust University Hospitals Birmingham, which runs hospitals in Birmingham and Solihull, has the biggest waiting list in the country.

The cross-party House of Commons Health Committee warns today (January 6) that more than 5.8 million patients are waiting for treatment nationwide, with 300,000 waiting more than a year. Committee chair Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative MP and former Health Secretary, said: “Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than day to day firefighting unless the Government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix the issue.”

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NHS figures show that the hospital trust with the largest backlog is University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB). The figures reflect the size of the trust, which has treated more than 20,000 Covid patients since the health crisis began – more than any other hospital trust in the country.

A total of 184,171 treatments are waiting to be carried out, and 29,912 patients have been waiting more than a year. The trust runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Good Hope Hospital, Heartlands Hospital and Solihull Hospital.

The problem at the hospital trust has been building for months. A report to the Trust’s directors presented by the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Strategy warned in November: “Due to the cancellation of elective inpatient admissions and outpatient appointments during the pandemic, there has been rapid growth in the Trust’s waiting lists and a deterioration in waiting time performance with significant numbers of patients now waiting longer than 52 weeks from referral to treatment.”

The report also highlighted an increase in the number of cancelled operations, saying: “Cancellations resulting from the impact of Covid-19 continue to significantly affect performance.”

However, UHB is not alone. Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, running West Bromwich’s Sandwell Hospital and Winson Green’s City Hospital, has a waiting list of 52,167, while Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has a waiting list of 19,047.

Delays are caused partly by the need to prioritise Covid patients. At its peak, UHB had 1,067 COVID-19 inpatients, with over 200 in intensive therapy units (ITU). Today, the trust has 410 COVID-19 inpatients, including 27 in intensive care.

Separate NHS data suggests that staff absences have also contributed to delays. UHB had 378 staff sick due to covid at the end of December compared to 194 a month earlier.

A spokesperson for UHB said: “Teams across our hospitals are working hard to increase the number of treatments available through opening new theatres, creating extra ward capacity on all our hospital sites, innovative Enhanced Peri-Operative Care units to reduce reliance on intensive care units in some complex cases, and increased recruitment – including 80 international nurses recruited to support key areas such as theatres and ITU.

“COVID-19 unfortunately continues to have a significant impact on our waiting lists, however our incredible staff will continue to clinically prioritise patients, whilst having treated more than 20,000 patients with COVID-19.”

Today’s report by the Health Committee suggests there may also be patients who need hospital treatment but not come forward. MPs said: “Our inquiry also looked extensively at the issue of hidden demand. That includes not just ‘missing patients’ but people with mental health issues exacerbated by lockdowns and people living with medical conditions who have faced interruptions to their usual care – and whose health may have worsened as a result.

“There is also a backlog in public health, where children have missed out on universal programmes largely delivered at school.

“We heard powerful testimony from patients who had felt ‘abandoned’ by the NHS, who had to ‘fight’ for care, and for whom delays in treatment meant ongoing uncertainty, with lives left on hold.”

They added: “This report recognises the government has made it a key priority to tackle the Covid backlog and been willing to increase funding accordingly. But commitment and resources do not automatically equate to delivery.”

Mr Hunt said the Government should act to deal with staff shortages, with 93,000 current vacancies for NHS positions and shortages in nearly every specialty. He said: “Our Report finds that the Government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis. The current wave of Omicron is exacerbating the problem, but we already had a serious staffing crisis, with a burnt-out workforce, 93,000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address this.”

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