Covid-19 crisis causes record delays for medical tests in East Sussex

Record delays have been recorded for a range of medical tests in East Sussex as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:11 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:32 am

Tests for cancer, heart failure and sleep disorders were among those delayed at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust as services across the NHS were suspended in March during the covid-19 outbreak.

Medical experts warn longer waits caused by the pandemic are likely to continue, with some seriously ill patients potentially missing out on cures.

NHS trusts provide information on how long people have been waiting for 15 key tests at the end of each month.

Covid-19 has caused record delays for medical tests in East Sussex

According to NHS rules, after someone is referred for one of the tests, they should have it completed within six weeks.

But NHS England data shows 405 patients at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust had been kept longer than that at the end of March.

At seven per cent of those on the waiting list, this was the highest rate of hold-ups for the month since comparable local records began in 2014.

March 2020 peer review graph for Planned Care - Diagnostic Waiting Time (ESHT in yellow)

It was also well above the national standard that fewer than one per cent of patients should wait six weeks or more.

Of those who were not seen on time, 34 had been on the list at least 13 weeks.

Across England, the number of delays at the end of March shot up to 85,400 – the most for any month since the target was introduced in 2008.

Dr Jeanette Dickson, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said the coronavirus will have a heavy impact on certain test waits for the foreseeable future.

She said, “While the NHS will aim to prioritise the patients with the most life-threatening conditions, some with serious illnesses have minor symptoms and so may be missed.

“Although we cannot give definite numbers, it is likely some patients with cancer may have growth of their disease while waiting for a scan, potentially losing their chance of a cure.”

The most common type of test to see delays at East Sussex Healthcare Trust in March was an MRI scan, which produces detailed images of the inside of the body, and can help diagnose a range of conditions. One hundred and ninety nine people had been waiting at least six weeks.

This was followed by 113 for a CT scan – X-Ray images of the body that can detect problems such as bone damage and injuries to internal organs.

Another 33 people were held up for an ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves that can detect tumours.

A spokesperson for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT) said, “During the peak period of the pandemic, the Trust has had to follow national clinical guidance which has restricted routine and some specific procedures impacting on diagnostic activity, in order to protect patients and staff hence the sudden increase in patients waiting over six weeks for their diagnostic tests.

“We will be seeing a further hike in these numbers when we report the April position in the next few days (although they will not be available to the public until later next month).”

The spokesperson shared the March 2020 peer review graph for Planned Care - Diagnostic Waiting Times (pictured).

This shows the national average for March 2020 is 10.4 per cent against a performance of 7.0 per cent for ESHT during the same timeframe.

This ranks ESHT 51st out of 126 reporting organisations (yellow line on graph).

Data reporting by Tommy Lumby.

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