More than 100 patients from west Hertfordshire have been waiting for more than a year to start hospital treatment, according to data from Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG).

The NHS say that no patient should have to wait longer than a year for any treatment – and that the vast majority (92 per cent) should start treatment within 18 weeks.

But data presented to the board of the Herts Valleys CCG on Thursday (13 September) shows that in June there were 111 patients from the Herts Valleys area who had been waiting in excess of a year.

Now NHS England has written to the CCG to demand “particular focus” on ‘long waiters’ – requiring a reduction of at least 50 per cent by March (2019).

The CCG is looking at measures to speed up treatment of Herts Valleys patients at hospitals run by the West Herts Hospital Trust and the Royal Free London.

Individual Trust figures show that, as of June, 34 patients had been waiting in excess of 12 months at the Free London and 114 at West Herts, which includes Watford General Hospital.

Herts Valleys CCG chief executive Kathryn Magson has now told NHS England that they may have to ‘out-source’ to private hospitals and look at ways to divert new referrals away from West Herts Hospital Trust.

She says that cancelling of elective surgery to cope with winter pressures earlier in the year was a significant factor on waiting lists at West Herts.

She also points to the pressures caused by the reduced theatre capacity, as a result of ventilation failure throughout 2015/16 and 2016/17.

She says  an “adjustment” to weekend payment rates in July 2017 resulted in the majority of surgeons withdrawing and an end to weekend working.

In comparison, she points to the previous year, 2017/18, when there were just two long waits – both as a result of patient choice.

Following a meeting of the Herts Valleys CCG board on Thursday (13 September) she said:  “Getting these long-waiting patients the routine procedures and treatments they need is a real and very pressing  priority for us – and for our colleagues in the local hospitals.

“We are focusing on implementing a number of steps that will  bring down the time that some people are waiting for their appointments.”

Bosses at West Herts Hospital Trust say they are actively working to reduce waiting times and that consultants are monitoring patients to endure delays do not impact on their health.

There are plans to ‘outsource’ some treatments, including general surgery, ENT, pain, urology and opthalmology.

There will be greater use made of St Albans City Hospital for ‘non-complex’ and day case patients.

WHHT director of performance Jane Shentall said: “We would like to apologise to our patients who are experiencing excessive waits for treatment.

“We are not complacent about the number of people who are on our 52-week wait list and we are actively working to reduce this number.

“This does not meet the standards of service which our patients are entitled to receive.

“Our consultants regularly check that they do not deteriorate further while waiting.”

Mrs Shentall says the directive to cancel operations over the winter – which was to create capacity for emergency admissions – has had a direct effect on waiting times.

“The impact of winter pressures on elective (planned) care should not be underestimated.

“This had a significant impact on the delivery of planned care, and we followed last December’s national directive to pause planned inpatient care through to January.

“It has taken us many months to begin to recover our position and we have only been able to increase the number of routine elective admissions to Watford General this September.

“We are working closely with our healthcare partner (Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group) to access treatment for patients from a number of different sources.

“This includes directing patients to the independent sector for treatment and maximising opportunities to admit patients for elective care at Watford General.”

The WHHT aims to cut the number of patients waiting for more than 52 weeks to zero by the end of December (2018).

In addition, the data presented to the Herts Valleys CCG board, shows  just 85.4 per cent of patients had been treated within the 18  week target  – 6.6 per cent below the national target.

Patients living in the CCG  area have also chosen the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital. No patient at Luton and Dunstable had waited a year for treatment.