Nearly 74,000 people – the equivalent of the combined populations of Bletchley, Newport Pagnell and Stony Stratford – are waiting for treatment at NHS hospitals in the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) area, a meeting heard.
At the end of January, for the latest published report, there were 73,988 people waiting for treatment across BLMK of which 26,289 patients have waited more than 18 weeks and 3,016 have waited more than one year.
“The performance numbers do not look good,” said Anne Murray, the BLMK chief nurse at a meeting of clinical commissioners on Tuesday (6 April 2021).
She said it reflected the situation in January at the height of the most recent covid wave when hospitals were under enormous pressures.
“For me though it is about focusing on reset and restoration as we are calling it.”
At the same time as they deal with the treatment backlogs at the region’s three general hospitals at Bedford, Luton, and Milton Keynes, they expect to see more patients being referred.
They are looking out for a spike as patients regain confidence in using NHS services following what is hoped will be the worst of the pandemic.
“We have been able to maintain our cancer surgery during the whole period,” Ms Murray added.
“There’s a really high focus on cancer services and we are keen to ensure that any long waits and the performance position starts to improve.”
The meeting heard that total waiting lists rose by 2,470 between December and January and stood at 33,290 in Bedfordshire, 15,114 in Luton and 25,584 in Milton Keynes.
Of those, 3,016 had been waiting for more than a year with 1,784 in Bedfordshire, 570 in Luton and 662 in Milton Keynes.
Twelve cancer patients had been waiting for more than 104 days, up from seven in December, according to background papers to the meeting.
Geraint Davies, the BLMK director of performance and governance, said: “We are working with our hospitals to look at how we manage the waiting list. We are looking at how we collaborate across the system.
“We’re looking at where we can have a joint approach to manage patients more effectively.”
But with pressure from covid now easing, the papers are warning of a possible “significant spike in demand” for unmet health needs once covid pressures settle and vaccinations are complete.