Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has embarked on a drive to ensure that, by the end of 2008, no patient has to wait more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment.
More beds will be set up and extra operations carried out, while services are reshaped to keep waiting times down in the longer term.
Although most patients continue to be seen at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH), the community hospitals run by the Trust are also increasingly important for both out-patient appointments and care.
One of the first steps has been the setting up of a mobile operating theatre on the NDDH site. It will remain until the end of March, so patients can get their operations more quickly.
The Vanguard theatre includes a mini-ward, so patients can come in on the day of their op, be prepared, have surgery and recover without having to leave the unit. The first patients arrived last week (wef 27 July) – and are telling staff they think it is wonderful.
Most patients are coming in for eye operations, with cataract-removal the most common. But other treatments are also likely to be offered, including joint-injections for orthopaedic patients and hernia repairs.
The 18-week ‘clock’ for patients will start at the moment their referral is received by a consultant or department – usually from their GP – and stop when they have treatment.
The Trust is also asking patients to ‘do their bit’ by making sure they turn up for appointments or, if they can’t, cancelling as early as possible so someone else can be offered their place.
Currently, more than 600 people a month fail to turn up, increasing the wait for other patients as well as wasting around £65,000.
The NHS has already made strong progress in reducing waiting times. A few years ago, patients were commonly waiting over a year for operations after being put on the waiting list. Now the maximum wait is six months, with the average being three or four months.
One of the challenges is to make sure patients who need treatment most urgently are seen quickest, while those with less-urgent conditions are still seen within the 18 weeks.
As well as setting up the Vanguard theatre and extra beds from this summer to next March, more theatre sessions are being held in the evening and at weekends.
The more-complicated process of redesigning services to keep waiting times down – especially with an ageing population and rising demand – is already under way.
It involves looking at every stage of the ‘pathway’ followed by patients from referral to treatment; where people are seen; whether the Trust has the right type of staff; and what equipment or support are needed.
The £23.5m refurbishment of North Devon District Hospital will also be used over the coming years to improve the space available for various departments, in line with the reshaped services.
Jo Gibbs, the Trust’s Director of Operations, said: “Making sure everyone gets their treatment within 18 weeks is a huge prize, considering how long people had to wait only a few years ago.
“It’s not just about working harder, but about streamlining the way we do things. That might mean making more use of our community hospitals, for example, or treating more people at home.”
Please help us to help you
As a patient, these tips will help you, help us and help other patients:
- If you can’t make an appointment at hospital, please let us know as early as possible so we can offer the place to someone else. The number to call will be on your booking letter. If you can’t call yourself, please ask a relative or friend.
- Please be ready for your treatment by making arrangements beforehand for things like care of pets and transport to hospital, or for someone to look after your home if you will need to stay overnight.
- Please think before your appointment of any questions you might need to ask, and bring a pen and paper to write down the answers. This is particularly important now that treatment can sometimes start almost immediately.