Challenges remain as Royal Free Trust meets waiting list targets

Royal Free Hospital

Royal Free Hospital overcoming waiting list targets - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

No patient is facing a wait of more than two years for treatment after medics at the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust cleared its backlog by the end of June.

The trust – which includes the Royal Free Hospital in Pond Street, Chase Farm and Barnet Hospital – has now met the national target after two-year waits peaked at more than 450 patients facing long waits in July last year.

The NHS launched a push in February to slash the waits for elective treatment after a Covid backlog built up.

Trust group head of delivery Peter Landstrom told the trust board meeting on July 27:  “We continued to make really good progress against what was a really big challenge.”

Ten people were still waiting for treatment for 104 weeks by the end of June because of complication or because they chose to delay care.

According to trust data, 882 people in May hit the 78-week wait.

“If you look back at where we were even six months ago, with the patients on our overall waiting list and also patients who were waiting a long time, that’s a really significant achievement,” he said.

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He said cancer diagnoses and treatment are “significantly above pre-Covid” levels but challenges remain meeting the target for cancer treatment within 62 days of referral.

In March, 64% of patients started treatment within the 62-day target, compared with 86% at the Epsom and St Helier hospital  – a London peer providers.

“We have managed to reduce those very long waiting cancer patients who are waiting over 104 days for treatment, ” said Mr Landstrom.

He said work is going on to improve cancer pathways, minimise any delays and also increase activity

“There is a patient behind every one of those numbers that wait longer than 62 days and we know the impact on patients whilst they are waiting either for diagnosis or for their treatment, and that’s obviously not where we want to be."

He added: “We are one of the busiest cancer centres in the UK and because of the levels of referral we haven’t been able to have the impact on the 62 day backlogs that we would have wanted.”

Delays are mainly linked to recruiting specialist staff.

Board chair Mark Lam said: “Two years ago nationally we were not in a good place, but the team has done an extraordinary job.”