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Patients are being offered faster treatment in different parts of the country as part of an NHS ‘final push’ to virtually eliminate the number waiting two years or more.
The NHS Elective Recovery Plan, published earlier this year, set out how the health service would address COVID-19 backlogs in treatment, initially focusing on the longest waiters.
The number who have waited two years or more in acute hospitals has fallen by 15,000 since a peak of 22,500 in January to 6,700.
People who are still on the waiting list are being asked whether they would be prepared to travel for treatment in the coming weeks.
NHS teams are pulling out all the stops to match them with a different hospital, with travel and accommodation costs available for patients where appropriate.
Well over 400 patients have already said they would be prepared to travel, of which around 140 have been booked in to get their surgery at a different hospital.
The NHS set out ambitions to eliminate two-year waits by the end of July except for those patients who choose to wait longer or patients in highly specialised areas that may require a tailored plan.
NHS staff continue to make progress on COVID-19 backlogs despite the latest monthly figures showing that it was the busiest May for emergency care with 2.2 million A&E attendances and almost 78,000 of the most urgent ambulance call outs.
From weekend clinics to dedicated surgery hubs and ensuring treatment transfers can happen, NHS staff are doing everything possible to bring down long waits for treatment for patients.
Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of the NHS said: “As happened around the world, COVID backlogs inevitably built up as hospitals here treated more than 750,000 people with the virus as well as caring for many more in the community.
“Millions who did not seek help earlier in the pandemic are now coming forward, but thanks to the hard work of NHS staff we have made big progress on the longest waits despite Omicron and a difficult winter.
“As part of the biggest and most ambitious catch up programme in NHS history, staff are now on track to virtually eliminate two-year waiters by the end of July.
“But the NHS will not stop here, from delivering one million tests and checks through our newly rolled out community diagnostic centres to new state of the art same day hip replacements, staff are constantly looked for new and innovative ways to treat patients quicker, especially those who have been waiting a long time.
“One of the benefits of the NHS is that hospitals can work together to bring COVID backlogs down together and so if people can and want to be treated quicker elsewhere in the country, NHS staff are ensuring that it can happen.
“Once again NHS staff are demonstrating the agility, resilience and compassion that shows when they are given the tools and resources they need, they deliver for our patients”.
While not everyone on the waiting list will want to travel further afield, already many patients around the country are taking up the option to be seen quicker.
Three patients waiting for surgery at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust have received treatment at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, with a further two booked in.
Southwest London Elective Orthopaedic Centre has already treated 17 patients from the South-West, with a further 11 patients set to receive care in the coming weeks.
Hospitals across the country are continuing to look for new and innovative way to help with elective recovery.
Patients in Lancashire are benefitting from a new state-of-the-art cataract surgery centre which is treating 35 patients a day two days a week. With patients waiting just six weeks for cataract procedures.
While the NHS continues its rollout of Community Diagnostic Centres which have already delivered over one million diagnostic tests and checks since the rollout began in July last year.
Patients in Barnsley are already finding attending for diagnostic tests easier due to a new facility that the hospital has opened at Glass Works shopping centre in the town – which officially opens this week. With access to the 670 parking spaces, patients are telling staff that getting to their ultrasound or X-ray appointment is convenient and can be combined with going about their day.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The NHS is making great progress in ensuring those waiting the longest get access to vital treatment as part of our plan to bust the COVID backlogs, reducing two-year waits by two-thirds since January.
“I announced a new right to choose for patients earlier this year, and some of the longest waiters are already benefitting from the offer of an alternative provider where they can be seen more quickly.
“Innovations like this are helping to tackle waiting lists and speed up access to treatment, backed by record investment, and there are over 90 community diagnostic centres delivering over one million checks and scans in the last year”.