One of the biggest tasks for us in the coming year is getting elective care back on track. London – especially the region Barts Health serves – was hit particularly hard by Covid-19. Like other trusts, we had to suspend routine elective activity twice, for a total of seven months, to allow us care for Covid-19 patients.
The knock-on effect is that at the end of April 2021, over 90,000 people were waiting to start treatment in our hospitals. Within that overall list, more than 16,000 were waiting over 52 weeks. Some have now waited over two years – and we are determined to clear them by December 2021. It will take longer to clear the backlog of people waiting 52-weeks for their operation: our target is to achieve this by August 2022.
And we’re making progress in doing so.
Our four acute hospitals in the group are already running as many planned operations and outpatient appointments as last autumn, before the second wave hit. We aim to reach 90% of pre-pandemic activity by September. This is helping us make inroads into the backlog of those waiting a long time.
Those on our waiting lists are being prioritised according to clinical need and the length of time they have waited. And we’ve made progress in reducing the number of people forced to wait over 52 weeks.
Short-term, we will continue to clear this backlog by continuing to work with partners and using the independent sector at NHS rates to carry out some procedures. This means that to receive the fastest, most appropriate care and treatment, patients may be asked to go to another hospital that isn’t nearest to them – but they will still have the right to choose. For example, over 300 of our patients have been transferred for treatment to Homerton University Hospital.
Long-term, we need to adapt and introduce new ways of working to maximise our productivity. Part of this includes consolidating high-volume, low complexity elective surgery as much as possible. Pre-Covid, we published proposals with partners across north east London to do just this, in the form of fast-track surgical hubs.
The common aim of these hubs, and similar ones being developed by other providers across north east London, is to create high-volume, low-complexity hubs in the areas which are of most benefit to the majority of patients who are waiting.
Four theatres in the Barts Health Orthopaedic Centre, at the standalone Gateway Surgical Centre at Newham Hospital, are focusing on delivering day-case orthopaedic operations for the whole group. Whipps Cross is developing expert hubs in urology, ear, nose and throat, and ophthalmology, and is steadily increasing theatre capacity. The Royal London Hospital is already a specialist centre for complex surgery. This role will be enhanced and the hospital will continue to be a major trauma centre for London, and a specialist stroke centre. And St Bartholomew’s will continue in its role as a specialist heart centre, which has its own long waiting list for cardiac patients.
In addition to these centres, there are plans to open four additional theatres at Newham Hospital, offering high-volume, low-complexity work in general surgery and gynaecology; a pain centre at Mile End; vascular and plastics at the Royal London and children’s dentistry at the Royal London dental hospital.
By taking the approach of prioritising patients who need care the most or urgently, and delivering high-level, low-complex care at specialist hubs, we’re working hard to see as many patients, as soon as we can.
We continue to be there for our patients and we are once again open for elective care procedures. If you are invited to have a procedure, or for an appointment at one of our hospitals, please attend. It is safe to do so.
If your planned operation was cancelled, and you would like an update on your care, please get in touch with your care team.