Eye patients face University Hospital of North Staffordshire ban after target worries
HUNDREDS of patients with failing sight are to be sent elsewhere for treatment because North Staffordshire's biggest hospital has been banned from taking new cases.
The eye department at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire can no longer give out new appointments because it is over-run with patients.
The decision has been made because the hospital can't guarantee hitting Government demands to treat patients within 18 weeks of them being referred to the Hartshill centre.
It will affect mainly pensioners needing operations for conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma.
NHS officials will pay hospitals in other areas or private clinics to treat the patients while University Hospital specialists clear their backlog.
The suspension – which starts on January 3 – affects routine cases sent in by GPs and opticians. Patients with emergency eye problems will still be treated at the hospital.
An ageing population, rising expectations among patients and the better diagnosis of illnesses are behind the growing demands.
Patients not yet offered an appointment will be returned to the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group's (CCG) Choice and Referral Centre for an alternative provider to be offered.
Tamsin Carr, communications manager with Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire CCGs, said: "We have been working closely with the University Hospital and a number of alternative providers to ensure patients can continue to access non-urgent services that are safe and effective."
Hospital operations director Dereth Baker said: "Demand has steadily increased above current capacity and we have not taken this action lightly."
The identity of the alternative providers has not been disclosed, although the Nuffield private hospital, in Clayton, is likely to be used.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator with campaign group North Staffordshire Heathwatch, said: "The alternative in this case would be people running the risk of going blind while waiting for treatment which used to happen more than 10 years ago.
"The CCGs had to act to ensure people continue to have safe care but wherever possible the new providers should do the work locally rather than expect vulnerable people to travel."
Latest figures show the hospital has 16,500 outpatients for all illnesses, with the eye department holding one of the biggest backlogs.
The impending shutdown comes as the hospital's back surgery service has just re-opened after a two year closure because of similar problems.
At least £6 million extra was spent sending people to hospitals at Sheffield, Macclesfield and Walsall.
Eye patients have been urged to contact the CCGs or the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) on 0800 0304563 with any queries.