Hundreds of people waited more than a year to be admitted at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust

Hospitals boss vows "we are working hard to address this"

Hundreds of people told they needed a hospital stay waited more than a year to be admitted for treatment at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust, figures show.

Charities have called on the NHS to do more to support patients awaiting treatment as health services work "flat out" to reduce waiting lists made lengthier by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS Digital statistics show around 475 patients needing non-emergency care at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had waited more than a year to be checked into hospital in the year to March following the initial decision to admit them.

Bedford Hospital

Of those, 65 waited more than 18 months.

Cathy Jones, Bedfordshire Hospitals Trustdeputy chief executive, said: “The backlog of care that has built up over the pandemic is considerable and we are working hard to address this.

"We are offering our longest waiting patients dates for their procedures as soon as we can, and also giving patients the opportunity to have their treatment, not just at our own hospitals, but at other independent sector providers in the local area.”

Nationally, more than 95,000 patients admitted for non-urgent treatment across England in 2020-21 had been waiting for more than a year, up from around 42,000 the year before.

The figures do not include planned admissions where there is a personal or medical reason behind a delay.

The Patients Association charity said patients should be given "honest timescales" for treatment and advice, support and compassion during their time on waiting lists.

Chief executive Rachel Power said: "The NHS must understand the impact on patients when planned care is cancelled or when you've no clear idea of when you may get care, and act in response.

"This means clear communication to patients and giving clear expectations about what might happen next.

"We know it will take many months before the waiting lists come down, but until they do, patients waiting must be supported and not left to wonder about what may happen to them."

Sir Robert Francis, chairman of Healthwatch England said patients needed clear and individualised information about the next steps in their treatment.

He said an emphasis on interim care like physiotherapy, pain relief and mental health support could make the waiting experience more bearable and prepare people for surgery.

Sir Francis added: “With healthcare services forced to prioritise critically ill patients throughout the pandemic, it is a reality that people will be waiting longer for hospital treatment for a while.

“However, NHS England must manage waiting lists better by reducing the risks and inconvenience to patients caused by delays to care, as part of the national action to reduce the backlog."

A spokeswoman for the NHS said caring for 450,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital had had an inevitable impact on the health service's ability to deliver care for less urgent conditions.

She said patients awaiting treatment had been reviewed by clinicians and were supported while on the waiting list, adding: "NHS services have continued to be available for patients who needed them and staff are currently working flat out to get services back to pre-Covid levels.

"This week the NHS laid out its plan for the next six months, which includes £1.5billion of funding to support the continued recovery of waiting lists and cancer services.”