THE number of people in Worcestershire waiting longer than 18 weeks for operations has hit 1,737.
Figures presented at a meeting of the board of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust on Wednesday showed a steady increase in the number of people waiting longer than the NHS-mandated amount of time for a non-urgent operation.
Although the backlog was slightly lower than it was in February, it is still higher than it was this time last year, when 1,633 people were waiting.
Although the trust – which manages Worcestershire Royal Hospital, Kidderminster Hospital and Redditch’s Alexandra Hospital – had previously pledged to clear the backlog by November, chief executive Penny Venables said NHS England had issued guidance saying this needed to be done by September in order to be fully prepared for the winter.
Deputy chief executive Chris Tidman said a raft of measures were being put in place including opening more beds at the Royal and the Alex, increasing the number of staff on duty during the weekend and setting up arrangements with the private sector to take on some of the load.
“We are trying to furiously pedal faster,” he said.
“We are committed to turning this around.”
But he said the number of people visiting A&E in the county was continuing to hit high levels, with hospital attendances up eight per cent compared with last year and admissions up 1.5 per cent.
The trust’s chief operating officer Stewart Messer said a large amount of the pressure was being caused by patients who were unable to visit their GP during the weekend going to A&E instead.
“The challenge to us is our front door remains open seven days a week,” he said.
“Others do not. Unfortunately it’s showing no signs of abatement.”
The meeting also heard 6.4 per cent of patients visiting A&E in the county were waiting more than four hours to be treated – above the target of no more than five per cent – and staff were working to ensure those who were fit to go home were discharged as soon as possible to free up beds for others who needed them.
Health bodies in Worcestershire are currently working on an extensive revamp of urgent care throughout the county, which it is hoped will ease the pressure on A&E by making more health services available seven days a week.
The results of a public consultation into the plans are now being reviewed and the strategy is expected to be formally adopted in July .