More than 14,000 operations postponed and cancelled at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust since start of covid pandemic
New figures point to the extent of the area’s healthcare backlog more than a year into the NHS’s mammoth effort tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Statistics obtained by our team under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showed thousands of routine procedures having been impacted at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT), along with more than two-and-a-half thousand people currently on lists for vital MRI scans.
Nearly 14,500 surgeries have been cancelled and postponed at STFT since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020, according to data provided through the FOIA request.
It comes as the Royal College of Surgeons calls for specialist surgical hubs in England and an extra £1 billion per year to tackle a “colossal backlog” in non-urgent procedures.
The body said such hubs should be developed to allow planned surgery to take place in every region of the country should there be a fresh wave of Covid-19, or other severe pressures brought on, for instance, by flu.
STSFT recognised the pandemic’s ‘enormous’ impact on local services and urged patients to continue coming forward for care and attending appointments.
As of May 25 of this year, 2,645 patients were waiting on MRI scans while 3,579 were awaiting CT scans.
On the same date, the trust recorded 14,013 people waiting for separate radiological procedures and 4,629 waiting for endoscopies.
“Throughout the pandemic we have continued to provide urgent and emergency care, including urgent cancer treatments and continue to be the top performing Trust in the region for cancer performance,” said Dr Shaz Wahid, Medical Director at STSFT.
However, STSFT replied that “Information [was] not available” when asked via FOIA how many cancer operations had been impacted since March 23, 2020.
At the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, by contrast, it was found that almost 60 cancer operations had been delayed as a result of Covid pressures. Unlike STSFT, the North Tees trust is not a cancer centre.
Dr Wahid also said: “COVID-19 has had a huge impact on services across the whole of the NHS and during the first wave all Trusts were asked to postpone non-emergency care to deal with the unprecedented demands we saw within our hospitals and the community.
“Our teams have worked tirelessly to bring as many people back in for planned operations and tests and 85% of patients in April have waited less than the national target of 18 weeks.
“Clearly there will be some who are understandably worried about coming in for treatment and will choose to postpone or cancel.
"We want people to know that the NHS is still very much here for you so please continue to attend your appointments and follow all advice given to protect yourself and others.”
The North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System has been chosen as one of 13 such systems, STFST says, to receive a share of £160 million in funding and extra support to implement and evaluate innovative ways to increase access to treatment across the region.
STSFT also said it is working with other trusts in the region to tackle these challenges and to reduce the backlog of patient waits by sharing its approach to cataract surgery, the NHS’s most common surgical procedure.