Pandemic impact at North Mid ‘will be felt for years’

Long waiting lists for non-Covid treatment at Edmonton hospital following two waves of the pandemic, reports James Cracknell

North Middlesex Hospital
North Middlesex University Hospital in Edmonton

The impact of the pandemic on the treatment of non-Covid ailments at North Middlesex University Hospital will be “felt for years to come”.

This is according to the new chief executive of the NHS trust running the Edmonton hospital, who has reacted to the release of new data showing the hospital is falling behind on several national targets for key performance measures.

A report published by North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust this month revealed that the percentage of patients waiting under 18 weeks to be treated – described as the ‘referral to treatment’ (RTT) time – had reduced from 94.4% before the pandemic to 85% in June 2021. This puts it below the national target of 92%.

Out of a total of 14,374 people on North Mid’s waiting list for treatment as of June 2021, 94 had been waiting for more than a year and 16 had been waiting for more than 90 weeks. Before the pandemic, only eight patients had been waiting more than 40 weeks and none more than 52 weeks.

In diagnostics, the NHS target is for 99% of all patients to receive a diagnostic test within six weeks, but North Mid’s performance has dropped from 99.6% in December 2019 to 87.1% in June 2021.

And for cancer treatment specifically, the national target is for at least 85% of patients to start a first treatment for cancer within two months (62 days) of an urgent GP referral. At North Mid, this performance measure has fallen from 88.9% before the pandemic to 64.1% in May 2021.

Dr Nnenna Osuji, North Mid’s chief executive, said: “North Mid was one of the first trusts in the country to experience the impact of Covid-19 during the first wave, and again in the second wave, with huge demand of our services from severely ill patients with Covid-19.

“Despite this, the trust has continuously adapted its services in line with government guidelines to ensure the safety and care of our patients remains a top priority.”

During the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020, the trust had more than 250 Covid-19 positive patients in an inpatient bed, while at the peak of the second wave in January 2021 there were more than 300 coronavirus patients at North Mid.

At these peak times, non-cancer elective activity was reduced. Cancer patients requiring urgent treatment had their procedures performed at private healthcare providers, freeing up space for Covid-19 patients at North Mid.

Dr Osuji added: “Throughout both peaks, the trust has continued to provide patients who require non-Covid care with the treatment they need, accelerating this where possible and using clinical review.

“Having said this, the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for years to come, and we continue to work with GPs and local health partners to help make sure that local people receive care in the most appropriate setting.”

A trust spokesperson added that it had introduced “a Covid-19 secure pathway” for patients having surgery at the hospital via the newly-opened Sir Captain Thomas Moore’s Centenary Ward. Any patients waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment are clinically reviewed at least monthly.

Attendances at North Mid’s accident and emergency (A&E) department are also up this summer, with the hospital seeing a record number of attendances in July, when there were sometimes more than 700 patients seen in a single day, compared to the average of 550-600 attendances per day.