More waiting for vital health tests

MP STEPHEN Lloyd said he would be demanding an explanation from health bosses after it was revealed the number of patients waiting for hospital tests had rocketed up by 3,374 per cent in just a year.

In April 2010 – when government guidelines said patients should wait no longer than six weeks to be tested – 19 people in the East Sussex Downs and Weald PCT area were waiting beyond that time.

But figures for April this year – coming after the coalition government scrapped the targets – showed a total of 660 people were still on a waiting list for vital examinations.

And, as well as cancer tests, these included patients in need of colonoscopies, MRI and CT scans and echocardiographies, which identify heart defects.

Patients are first referred by their GP and often scans are only ordered once they have seen a specialist – meaning a long wait between initial health concerns and eventual treatment.

The increase of more than 3,000 per cent in East Sussex Downs and Weald is one of the highest in the country – although it is dwarfed by neighbouring Hastings and Rother, which tops the list with an incredible rise of 41,733 per cent.

There, three patients were waiting more than six weeks in 2010 – the figure now is 1,255.

Mr Lloyd told the Herald, “I am very concerned at these figures. Such a massive increase in such a short time is very worrying.

“I will be writing immediately to the PCT demanding an explanation, as well as contacting the Secretary of State to let him know of the rapid increase in waiting times.

“Patient safety must come first.”

In response, Frank Sims, NHS Sussex director, said, “We have put in place additional sessions in diagnostics such as CT scans, MRI scans and ultrasound and I have every confidence that within the next few weeks this will have addressed the issue of patients waiting longer than we would like for treatment.”

Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said it was important that people were not left waiting for tests – particularly those suspected of having cancer.

She said, “The disease is easier to treat successfully if it is detected early and an appointment with an expert is a crucial first step in getting a speedy cancer diagnosis.

“When cancers are detected earlier, treatment is often milder and more effective.

“Many deaths could be avoided each year if cancers were diagnosed earlier.”