Progress but challenges with hospital waiting times

General Hospital. East side on Gloucester Street Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35865424)

IMPROVEMENTS in hospital waiting times have been driven by progress with community health dental services, rheumatology and trauma and orthopaedics, but ophthalmology and clinical genetics continue to pose challenges, according to the Health Department.

Discussing figures for March 2023 compared with those of September last year, director of clinical services Claire Thompson pointed to overall improvements in the number of patients – both outpatients and those requiring a hospital stay – waiting more than 180 days for treatment.

But Ms Thompson highlighted ophthalmology as a specialism posing particular challenges.

Last September, 824 patients were awaiting outpatient appointments, 362 of whom had been waiting more than 180 days. By March that figure had risen to 905, with 503 waiting more than 180 days.

There was a slight improvement for those awaiting ophthalmology operations, with the waiting list remaining largely constant at 352 in March, compared with 353 in September, but the proportion waiting more than 180 days decreased from almost 30% to 23.58%.

Claire Thompson Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35834682)

Ms Thompson said that recruitment had proved a particular obstacle, following the declaration of a ‘workforce crisis’ in the UK hospital eye service in 2019.

‘Eye departments all over the UK are experiencing staffing pressures [and] Jersey is no different,’ she said.

In the short term, the department has ring-fenced new routine patient appointments every Friday and is running Saturday clinics every other week for new patients.

For clinical genetics, another area of concern, the Health Department is working with Public Health on a new strategy for screening, with a newly formed board appointed to assist the work. Additional capacity is being sought in the UK to help with a waiting list of 239 – almost 83% of whom have been waiting more than 180 days.

Although community dental outpatients still constitute the largest number awaiting outpatient treatment, a recovery plan based on commissioning services from local dental practices has seen the waiting list fall from 1,844 in September to 1,339 in March. Those waiting more than 180 days also fell from 1,422 to 956.

Numbers waiting more than 180 days for inpatient treatment for trauma and orthopaedics – covering procedures such as shoulder, hip and knee surgery – fell by 33 although numbers on the waiting list increased by the same number over the six-month period.

There was also an increase of 82 in numbers on the waiting list for general surgery, while those waiting more than 180 days rose by 16, although the proportion reduced from almost 39% of the total to 36.5%.

Commenting on trauma and orthopaedics, an area highlighted last year after a surgeon expressed concerns that patients were being left in pain, Ms Thompson explained that the ring-fencing of a ward for elective work had allowed the team to improve the situation but she highlighted the continuing challenges posed for some patients.

‘Medically-fit-for-discharge patients waiting for either domiciliary care in the community or nursing home care placements for people with dementia still wait a long time to access these services,’ she said.

Patients awaiting outpatient treatment for rheumatology saw one of the most significant improvements, with the waiting list falling from 309 in September to 56 in March, while those waiting more than 180 days went from 25 to zero.

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