York Hospital Trust bosses are writing to patients apologising for long delays in treatment - and outlining plans to tackle waiting lists.

The letter also sets out measures being taken to protect staff and patients alike from being infected with the virus.

Quizzed by The Press about what would happen in the event of a second wave of virus, chief operating officer Wendy Scott pledged that the hospital would be ready.

The hospital had ‘learned a lot from’ the first wave of the pandemic, Ms Scott said. “We have comprehensive plans for future surges, flu, winter resilience and critical incidents.” 

In a letter which will be going out to all patients in York and Scarborough who have suffered delays as a result of coronavirus, the hospital's medical director James Taylor says: “We would like to apologise for any delay in your appointment/procedure.

“We know this may be a worrying time for you and we are doing everything we can to ensure we see our patients as soon as possible. We are ...working hard to reschedule appointments and operations. However, the impact of coronavirus means that for many patients there will be a delay, and waiting times will be longer than we would normally expect.”

Mr Taylor's letter also outlines measures being taken by the hospital to ensure staff and patients remain safe in the face of increasing numbers of new virus cases nationwide.

The measures include:

  • Reducing beds on wards to allow for two metre distancing.
  • Managing the number of operations each day to improve infection prevention in operating theatres.
  • Staggered patient admission times.
  • Leaving time for staff to change their PPE between patients.
  • Testing staff and patients for the coronavirus when appropriate.

As The Press reported on September 15, almost 7,000 patients in York are expected to have to wait 12 months or longer for non-urgent hospital treatment, including surgery.

Like hospitals across the country, the hospital was advised by the Government to cancel all non-urgent operations and appointments from the end of March.

It continued to see urgent and emergency patients - and moved cancer services to the private Nuffield Hospital, where they could be seen away from coronavirus patients. The hospital also used operating theatres at the Nuffield and at Clifton Park Hospital, run by private company Ramsay Health Care, so that urgent operations of all kinds could continue.

Nevertheless, a huge backlog of non-urgent cases built up - patients whose condition was not life threatening, but who were waiting for operations or treatment that could transform the quality of their lives.

In his letter to patients, Mr Taylor says doctors, nurses and other clinical staff are ‘continuously risk assessing every patient on our waiting lists to ensure we prioritise patients on the basis of their clinical needs’.

In response to a question by The Press, the hospital’s chief operating officer Wendy Scott stressed that age was NOT a factor when deciding who should be treated first. “Some patients will face longer waits depending on how urgent it is for them to be seen, so those with a greater level of urgency are seen more quickly,” she said.

“We are implementing national infection prevention and control guidance which means we keep covid and non-covid patients separate, for example swabbing patients prior to admission, asking patients to isolate before a procedure etc.

“This means we can keep some capacity ‘ringfenced’ even when we are admitting patients with covid.

“If we have a second surge on the same scale as the first we will apply the same processes.”

Asked about whether the hospital had the resources to cope with a new wave of infections, Ms Scott said staff who had been redployed to deal with coronavirus cases at the height of the first wave were now returning to their previous roles.

The hospital was to receive an extra £2million to upgrade A&E to ‘help respond to covid and restore services’, she added. A further £1 million was received in August to upgrade A&E in Scarborough.

  • Are you facing a long wait for hospital treatment? Email stephen.lewis@nqyne.co.uk if you would like to tell your story

Hospital staff's 'physical and emotional exhaustion'

York hospital's chief operating officer Wendy Scott says the past few months have been 'challenging' for staff.

"Emotional and physical exhaustion and the pain of loss has been felt throughout the Trust," she said. "Some staff have had to work long shifts in full PPE, some have had to adapt to different roles, some have had to shield, some have had to work from home.The pandemic has affected every aspect of people’s lives."

To help stressed staff cope, the Trust organised packed lunches for all staff, and hot meals for those working in covid 'hot areas'. 'Calm Rooms' were introduced and psychology drop-in sessions organised. A 'week of reflection' was also held from Monday June 29 to mark the death of the first covid patient, and to mark the 'courage and endurance' of NHS staff.