More than 40,000 patients were waiting for treatment at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust during March
But NHS teams are trialling new ways of restoring routine care like weekend and evening surgery after receiving share of £160m funding
More than 40,000 patients were on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust in March, figures reveal.
The Royal College of Surgeons described the size of the country's waiting list as "stomach-churning", adding it will take many years to deal with the backlog.
But NHS teams across Bedfordshire Luton and Milton Keynes have unveiled a new routine care recovery plan to restore routine NHS care after the pandemic.
The Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System (BLMK ICS) has been chosen as one of 13 areas nationally to receive a share of £160 million in funding and extra support to implement innovative ways to increase the number of elective operations they deliver.
NHS statistics show 46,387 patients were listed as waiting for elective operations or treatment at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March, up from 45,370 at the end of February.
It was also up from 42,920 the year before.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the task ahead for NHS workers was vast following an "unimaginably difficult year".
Vice president Tim Mitchell said: “With the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital at the lowest it has been since September last year, the recovery of planned surgery is fortunately now well under way.
"Still, any prospect of chiselling down the waiting list, which is now five million people, is premature, because new patients are presenting daily."
NHS rules state that patients referred for non-urgent treatments under the care of a consultant should start treatment within 18 weeks.
But the figures also show 2,877 patients on waiting lists at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust at the end of March had been waiting for at least a year – six per cent of all those on the waiting list.
Over the next three months, the local NHS will be exploring a range of new ways to tackle the vast backlog of care, including:
Extended waiting list initiatives to increase activity including evening and weekend working
Short term pop-up premises to deliver ‘Outpatient Convention Centre’
Expanding Imaging and diagnostic capacity
A Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust spokesman said: “It’s been an exceptionally difficult and busy year and our staff have been working tirelessly.
“We want to do everything we can to ensure that our patients are being seen as quickly as possible, so we welcome this investment to help us do that.”
Dr Ed Sivills, interim medical director, BLMK ICS added: “Treating so many Covid patients over the past year along with additional safety measures has inevitably had a knock-on effect on non-urgent care, but with the virus in retreat thanks to the extraordinary success of the NHS vaccination programme, our mission now is to rapidly recover routine services.
"If you have been putting off seeking care and you are worried, please do come forward - the NHS has been open throughout the pandemic and we have measures in place to see you safely.”