Hospital trust carries out harm reviews on cancer patients whose treatment was delayed by Covid outbreak

The number of patients waiting more than 62 days for treatment in some parts of Essex is still twice as high as before Covid-19 struck.

However, it is unclear in mid and south Essex how many patients have been left harmed – possibly even with terminal cancer – as a result of the delays, a paper submitted to an Essex health committee says.

Tellingly Mid and South Essex NHS Hospital Trust, which operates Broomfield, Basildon and Southend hospitals, has said it is “undertaking harm reviews of all patients who had to wait longer than 62 days for their treatment to understand if they came to any harm as a result of their delayed treatment so we can learn from the delays and what steps we can take to improve our services”.

There has been widespread concern over the disruption that Covid-19 has had on cancer treatments. The pandemic significantly disrupted hospital services during the first wave and materially impacted cancer waiting times across mid and south Essex, with the numbers of patients waiting over 62 days rising from 181 to a peak of 662.

A number of steps have already been taken to tackle the backlog of patients, which now stands at 359, with a planned trajectory to get to the pre-Covid-19 level of 181 by the end of March 2021.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust says it is taking a number of further steps to both increase capacity for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and has implemented Covid-19 secure pathways for patients – including using the independent sector.

It is also establishing the Mid and South Essex Specialist Critical Care Centre for Covid-19 patients requiring critical care at Basildon Hospital.

Around 7,500 NHS patients have received cancer and other urgent treatment at Spire Hartswood Hospital in Brentwood, under a historic agreement with Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.

A statement associated with a briefing scheduled for next week at Essex County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee  said to help address the current backlog Mid and South Essex plans to increase diagnostics capacity with additional mobile CT and MRI scanners over the course of September, alongside the commencement of a Covid-secure endoscopy pathway.

It adds it is on track to achieve a seven-day turnaround from referral to reporting of results by the end of October 2020 and “use of independent sector, insourcing and overtime sessions for our clinicians” will  maximise its operating capacity.

“All patients waiting over 62 days have a personalised treatment plan in place and have had contact with a clinician to understand what the position is in regard to their treatment,” said the statement.

“Patients have access to cancer clinical nurse specialists they can speak to if they have any concerns or questions about their treatment.

“We are undertaking harm reviews of all patients who had to wait longer than 62 days for their treatment to understand if they came to any harm as a result of their delayed treatment so we can learn from the delays and what steps we can take to improve our services.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter