Backlog threatens more NHS services
MORE key departments are under threat at a hospital where services for people with eye illnesses are about to shut.
GP leaders have revealed that University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) units treating skin, heart, ear, nose and throat and bowel illnesses are struggling to cope with growing backlogs.
Now they have ordered the complex to stop keeping them in the dark over the specialities with the longest waiting lists so they can help prevent them closing.
They also claimed UHNS behaved 'unacceptably' by temporarily shutting its eye department – then expecting them to find other hospitals to treat their patients.
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The Sentinel revealed this week that UHNS will suspend new referrals to its ophthalmology service from January 3 to allow its specialists to catch up with lists of thousands of people waiting for treatment longer than Government targets.
But GPs in charge of Stoke-on-Trent's new Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) say if they had been told about the growing crisis earlier they could have offered patients appointments elsewhere.
Hanley GP Dr Steve Fawcett, CCH head of planned care, told yesterday's group board meeting: "We need to manage these issues more proactively.
"We need an understanding from UHNS about their capacity plans with these other services. We have never had sight of them but it needs to be shared with us because it would put us ahead of the curve.
"The lists are much smaller than in the past when people waited up to two years but we are working hard with UHNS to give people the quality they deserve.
"We need a better idea from the hospital about what is coming down the line."
CCH chairman Dr Prasad Rao, pictured below, added: "It is unacceptable for the hospital just to tell us they can no longer see our patients so we must find somewhere else."
The group – together with the CCG covering Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands – has moved quickly to bring in three alternative providers to treat eye patients until UHNS lifts its restrictions.
Most of the affected people will be pensioners suffering from conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma.
They will continue to be treated in locations in North Staffordshire – unlike patients needing back surgery, who for the past two years had to be switched to Sheffield, Macclesfield and Walsall after UHNS shut its spinal service.
Officials gave a reassurance children and emergency eye cases will continue to be taken – and those currently on the waiting lists will not be moved.
It has a total backlog of around 16,500 patients for all illnesses and the CCGs says that is compromising its ability to hit Government demands to start treatment within 18 weeks of being referred.
It comes as leaders of the area's primary care trusts – due to be replaced by the CCGs next April – are to step up pressure on UHNS to improve performance.
Finance director Tony Matthews said: "The position is very disappointing and we will use all possible levers in our contract with the hospital to bring improvements for the public."
PCT chairman Alex Fox added: "We need to make patient safety as good as it can be and are pleased with how the CCGs have responded to the hospital's problems."