‘Ongoing risk’ of South Tyneside and Sunderland hospitals hitting capacity this winter

A North East NHS boss has warned there’s an “ongoing risk” that hospitals won’t be able to meet patient demand over the coming weeks.

In a report to South Tyneside and Sunderland Trust’s Council of Governors, Alison King – its director of performance – said capacity at South Tyneside District and Sunderland Royal hospitals would be tested as staff sought to deal with waiting lists.

Throughout the autumn hospitals around the region have been reporting rising pressures as they look to deal with a backlog of referrals – which had been paused during the height of the pandemic while also coping with a new wave of Covid-19 cases.

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Ms King wrote: “There remains an ongoing risk that there is not enough capacity to meet the demand going forward, especially with the significant backlog of patients waiting over 18 weeks factored in.

“As predicted, we are starting to see signs of deterioration, as the higher referral volumes received post lockdown have started to trip 18 weeks in larger volumes.”

The Trust, like others across the NHS, has been awarded national funding as part of the Government’s NHS recovery plans in order to help meet the demand.

Details of the A&E performance at South Tyneside and Sunderland are more promising, with the Trust seeing a higher proportion of patients – 81.5% – within four hours than the national average.

However this remains below the target of 95%.

Attendance at A&E has been record-breaking at the Trust, like across the region. It saw 20,860 people through the doors in September, which is 22% up on the same time in 2020, but “in line with pre-Covid levels”.

Though over the summer the Trust did not meet targets for how long diagnostic tests take, it has improved how quickly cancer patients get treatment and remains one of the top performing NHS bodies nationally when it comes to access to psychological therapies and the “recovery rate” of people who receive such therapy.

Looking ahead, Ms King said the focus would be on “stabilising the waiting list”, and ensuring the numbers of patients waiting more than a year – or even more than two years – for treatment was minimised.

The budget saw £5.9bn in capital funding awarded to help the NHS recover, but even then Health Secretary Sajid Javid, when asked whether the backlog nationwide will be solved within three years, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’ve been very open about this, it’s going to go up before it comes down.”

In September, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said: “Trust leaders are fighting fires on multiple fronts as they try to recover care backlogs, deal with increased demand for emergency care, treat patients with Covid-19 and prepare for what is likely to be the most challenging winter yet for the NHS.”

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland