Patients could face a four-and-a-half-month queue for hospital appointments in Sheffield – as a leap in numbers puts a strain on waiting times.
More than 27,630 patients are currently waiting for an outpatient appointment at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the most recent figures reveal.
Two years ago the outpatients list stood at 19,700 – meaning the overall number of patients waiting has grown by 8,000 in two years.
The new statistics show that, at the end of August this year, 13,800 people had been waiting over five weeks, nearly 2,000 more than the previous month.
A report to the hospitals trust’s board of directors said the increase in longer waits was across almost all departments, adding: “This may cause problems with achieving the 18-week targets later in the year.”
Pensioner Elizabeth Frampton, from Sandygate in Sheffield, told The Star she had been waiting for four months for a colonoscopy appointment at the Northern General Hospital - and the delay had made her ‘very upset’.
“I was told there are a lot more sick people and not enough staff,” said Mrs Frampton, a 67-year-old former nurse, who volunteers in a care home.
“They should do these tests the same day, or the day after. I’m in a lot of pain.
“When you think you’ve got cancer it’s not much fun.
“My GP has phoned up the hospital no end of times, and has been told there is a waiting list of four months. I got a letter saying that, in the meantime, there might be a cancellation, but there hasn’t been.
“I’ve had to be hospitalised at A&E four times, and each time on discharge they say they can’t do anything until they get the test results for the colonoscopy.
“If I had £5,000 I could have it done privately, but I don’t have that kind of money. I feel dreadful. I wasn’t expecting this.”
The report said: “The outpatient waiting list has risen from 27,012 at the end of July to 27,637 at the end of August.
“Of these, 13,800 had been waiting over five weeks, compared to 11,869 at the end of July. This increase in longer waiters was across all care groups, except diagnostics and therapeutics.”
The number of inpatients waiting for procedures has fallen, but almost 600 are waiting more than 20 weeks.
But Kirsten Major, director of strategy and operations at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said waiting times were at an ‘all-time low’ – and that patient numbers have grown as more people are specifically choosing to see consultants in the city.
Ms Major said: “Almost all of our non-urgent patients are seen within 18 weeks from the date their GP refers them for a hospital consultation - 64 per cent of our patients actually have their operation or treatment within eight weeks or less from referral.
“In the last two years the number of patients who chose us for care has risen by over 8,000, but our staff have continued to work hard to maintain low waiting times and we have introduced extra outpatient clinics and operating sessions to accommodate the increase.
“Patients can also help us by ensuring they attend for their appointments or inform us if they can’t attend so we can give it to another patient who is waiting.”
In England, patients have the legal right to start consultant-led NHS treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral, unless they choose to wait longer or a delay is ‘clinically appropriate’.
Five years ago all individuals registered with a GP were given the right to choose from any NHS hospital in the country for treatment, comparing facilities based on waiting times and specialities.
A spokeswoman for Healthwatch Sheffield, which represents city patients, said: “Healthwatch Sheffield is aware of concerns around waiting times for outpatient appointments. We intend to continue to monitor the situation and will work with the hospitals on the issue.”