Fewer patients waiting more than three months for medical tests as Shropshire hospitals start clearing backlog

Fewer patients at Shropshire's major hospitals had been waiting more than three months for medical tests at the end of April, figures show.

But Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust is still facing a significant backlog in the wake of the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when many staff had to be redeployed to where they were needed the most.

The number of patients waiting too long for diagnostic appointments is up from the same point last year.

NHS trusts report waiting times for 15 key tests at the end of each month, which are used to diagnose a wide range of diseases and conditions.

According to NHS rules, after someone is referred for one of these tests, they should have it completed within six weeks.

But NHS Digital data shows 609 people had been waiting at least 13 weeks at SaTH at the end of April.

Although this was a drop of 24 per cent from the 806 patients who had been waiting this long in March, it was significantly more than the 480 patients who had experienced such delays at the same time last year.

Nigel Lee, chief operating officer at SaTH, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, says the most clinically urgent patients are being prioritised.

He said: “At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, our teams continued to prioritise diagnostics, and secured additional facilities such as mobile MRI and CT scanners to enable us to see as many patients as possible.

“While there is still work to do to bring our waiting lists down further, this is evidence of the success we have had to date in reducing the backlog.

Clinically urgent patients

"Diagnostics remains a vital part of our plan for the recovery of services.

“Throughout this, we continue to prioritise our most clinically urgent patients, including those we are treating for cancer.”

Across England, 136,200 patients had been waiting 13 weeks or more for tests at the end of April – more than four times the 31,200 a year earlier.

Health think tank the Nuffield Trust said NHS staff are continuing to work under pressure to make a dent in the "troubling backlog" of tests nationally.

Sarah Scobie, the trust's deputy director of research, said urgent non-coronavirus demand is growing rapidly amid the easing of restrictions in England, but added hospitals could see another rise in Covid admissions as new infections surge.

She added: “Rising cases and early signs of more hospitalisations in Delta variant hotspots are a real concern.

"If Covid-19 demand rises alongside growing non-coronavirus need, the NHS will be forced again to do more with less given the reduction in bed numbers due to social distancing and ongoing staff exhaustion and shortages."

The figures also show that 1,945 of SaTH patients had been waiting six weeks or more for medical tests at the end of April – fewer than 2,262 in March, and down from 6,168 in April 2020.

Overall, a total of 7,762 patients were waiting for key diagnostic tests at the end of April.

NHS England said operations and other routine care were ahead of ambitions nationally.

A spokesman said waiting times for diagnostic tests also fell to a median average of 2.7 weeks in April – down from a peak of 8.6 in May last year.

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