Thousands of people may have to wait more than a year for hospital treatment in York due to the impact of the pandemic on healthcare.
Around 7,000 residents are expected to face a 12-month or longer wait for non-urgent procedures, including surgery.
Doctors and nurses have been tasked with prioritising patients on the waiting list – to ensure high-risk patients, such as people diagnosed with cancer, are seen first and people with non life-threatening conditions wait longer.
“The proportion of patients who have got to wait longer – and I’m talking about a year or more – has gone up,” Dr Andrew Lee, from Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), told a council meeting.
“In the city we are forecasting by March next year the long waiters to be probably close to seven thousand.”
He said: “The hospital has gone through the backlog of all referrals and they have been clinically risk assessed.
“They’ve prioritised the high-risk people to be seen first and unfortunately for those whose conditions were not seen to be life-threatening, they were put on a lower priority list which would mean that they would be facing much longer waiting lists.
“A lot of the focus has been on [prioritising] the cancer [services].
“The surgeons are working across regions so it’s not just a York thing.
“They are also prioritising who they operate on first.”
But he said the number of people who GPs have referred to specialists for treatment has gone down: “The numbers on the waiting list – this is referrals to treatment – fluctuates so it’s hard to work out where we are at any one point in time.
“But pre-covid we were somewhere around 29,000. The current figure as of mid-August was 25,700.”
York patient Howard Kinder said he was initially referred to the hospital for a cataract operation in both eyes in January.
His treatment has been delayed three times and is now scheduled for December.
He said he is expecting it to be delayed again, adding: “My optician stipulated to the hospital the operations were required at the earliest opportunity and I was hoping by now to have had them.
“The only other option I have is to go private, but at what cost.
“[It is] extremely frustrating after paying into the system for 40 years with little back in return.”
One York resident, who asked not to be named, said he decided to have knee surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament at a private hospital because he was told he would have to wait a “considerable amount of time” for the procedure on the NHS.
He said that although he was not in pain most of the time, it prevented him from playing sport and added: “It has also meant I would get episodes of instability in the knee which can cause considerable pain, sometimes for a couple of weeks.”
‘Worrying time for patients’
A spokesperson from York Hospital said: “We are working hard to reschedule appointments and operations as soon as possible, however the impact of coronavirus means that for many of our patients there will be a delay, and waiting times will be longer than we would normally expect.
“We appreciate this may be a worrying time for patients and we apologise for these delays as we work to restore our services.
“We are now starting to reinstate our services, however the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the services we deliver and how we deliver them.”
“We are continuously risk assessing every patient on our waiting lists to ensure we prioritise patients on the basis of their needs.
“These decisions are being made by doctors, nurses and other clinical staff in accordance with clinical guidelines to ensure patient safety.”
A spokesperson for Nuffield health – which offers private medical treatment – said the hospital has been supporting NHS services during the pandemic and that using private healthcare can reduce waiting times for patients.
They said: “By utilising available capacity within the independent sector, both NHS and privately-funded patients can get the diagnosis and treatment they need faster, reducing waiting times and relieving the pressure on the NHS.”