Fears for patients over delays

HOSPITAL bosses who run the Royal Lancaster Infirmary have ordered an investigation amid fears that thousands of patients – including suspected cancer sufferers – may have had treatment delayed.

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBFT) is reviewing the entire out-patient appointment system after GPs raised concerns.

An anonymous letter to the Guardian spoke of the trust going into “complete panic mode” in a bid to sort out the problem, which could have affected “some 35,000 patients”.

Another concerned Lancaster resident claimed staff off sick exacerbated the problem.

“One of the big issues is that patients are not being brought back in for appointments and some of these people have been told they might have serious illnesses,” he said.

“If staff are off sick, that makes the situation even worse.”

Staff from Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal were drafted in to help tackle the problem, but are said to be struggling to get the backlog under control.

Trust chiefs were warned at a board meeting this week that there could be “huge reputational damage” if the situation was not sorted out.

The news comes as the Guardian can reveal that sick leave among staff cost the trust almost £5m in the last financial year.

The trust would not comment on whether staff sickness had added to the problem in out-patients.

A spokesman said: “A team, which includes clinicians, is working to establish the number and nature of appointments that may have been delayed.

“If delays are identified, individual patients will be contacted to make a new appointment.

“However, if patients have immediate concerns about their follow-up appointment they can call a 24-hour, seven days a week, dedicated phone line on 0845 608 0278.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian has learned as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request that UHMBFT recorded 1,694 staff absences at the RLI during 2010/11.

There were 3,238 across the whole trust, which cost them £4,797,566.74. At the RLI, 17 people have currently been off sick for three or more months, and six people for more than six months.

Roger Wilson, UHMBFT’s director of human resources and organisational development, said: “We are committed to reducing our sickness absence rates and in just three years, we have managed to reduce our rate from 4.75 per cent per cent to 4.06 per cent per cent.

“This is well below the North West average of 4.5 per cent and we couldn’t have achieved it without the hard work of all our staff.”