HOSPITAL waiting lists and times have seen a significant reduction, according to recently released figures, with funding designed to bring further decreases already in place.
Health Minister Karen Wilson welcomed the data – which covers the period between last September and March – but admitted there would be ‘no quick fixes’ as her department sought long-term improvements.
According to the statistics, the number of Islanders waiting for outpatient appointments reduced from 9,853 in September last year to 9,103 at the end of March, while the number waiting more than 180 days reduced from 2,405 to 1,956.
Meanwhile, those awaiting operations as inpatients – although increasing slightly overall from 2,303 to 2,471 – also saw a reduction for those waiting more than 180 days, with that figure falling from 743 to 708. This constitutes a reduction to 28.65% of the total numbers waiting more than 180 days, down from 32.26% in September. The Health Department also drew attention to the fact that the latest March figures included 100 dermatology patients who were not previously part of their inpatient data. Deputy Wilson said she was reassured by the position coming out of the winter period.
‘It’s unusual for a hospital to reduce its waiting list over winter, but we have managed to do just that. Coming out of this period will now allow the department to divert capacity to elective care,’ she said.
At the end of this month, the Health Department is due to introduce a new electronic patient administration system which will allow reports to be provided differently, potentially giving patients a clearer idea of the waiting times they might face in future.
Claire Thompson, director of clinical services, said: ‘We would like to get to a place where patients can be really clear and informed by their treating or assessing health care professional. These are waits at speciality level, so that they can make an informed choice about using private health insurance if they have it and continue to assure the public… of access to treatment that delivers outcomes that benchmark well when compared with services elsewhere and within current resources.’
She added that the work they were currently undertaking to address waiting lists was showing ‘continued Covid recovery embedding’ and she acknowledged the importance of wider factors affecting the service.
‘All of these [measures] are subject to the continued recruitment and retention of highly skilled staff. Much of this will be linked to, and affected by, the need for affordable key-worker accommodation, education offer within the department, and the workplace environment the Island will provide its patients, users and the workforce,’ she said.
Among measures taken with additional funding of £5m agreed in the Government Plan to help reduce waiting lists are ring-fenced appointments for new routine patients in ophthalmology and fortnightly Saturday clinics, commissioning of additional community dental health treatment from local dental practices, and extra capacity from the UK in genetic screening.
However, pressure on the Hospital increased in March, with a significant increase in patients referred for treatment which Ms Thompson described as ‘an anomaly requiring investigation’.
Last March, 3,886 patients were referred to the Hospital for treatment, a figure consistent with the 3,543 referred this February. But March 2023’s figure rocketed to 4,584.