The Department of Health and Social Care has written to 157 patients who have been waiting longer than the recommended time for a follow-up gastrointestinal endoscopy.
Immediate action was taken when the extent of the delays was identified, and doctors reviewed the medical records of every patient currently listed as requiring a follow-up endoscopy before the end of June 2017.
In total the notes of 321 patients were reviewed with 157 of those found to be outside the optimal period for follow-up. Of the remainder: 59 are, in fact, not yet due their follow-up, so will receive an appointment at a future date; 39 will be invited to attend an outpatient appointment for a full clinical review rather than an endoscopy; and, 66 have now been discharged and require no further investigations due to recent changes in clinical guidelines for surveillance and follow-up.
The 157 patients whose follow-up endoscopies are now overdue have been offered prioritised appointments, with all scheduled before the end of August. A dedicated helpline has been established, operated by specialist nurses, to offer guidance and support to those affected.
All 321 patients initially identified as potentially being affected by the delays have been written to and advised of the situation. Anyone who is scheduled for or expecting a follow-up endoscopy after June 2017 is not affected by the delays.
Minister for Health and Social Care, Kate Beecroft MHK, said: “I wish to offer my sincere apologies, on behalf of the Department, to those affected by this oversight which is both concerning and disappointing. Immediate action has been taken to address the situation and ensure that future follow-up endoscopies are done at the appropriate time.
“Appointments for those affected have been prioritised with a view to completing all the investigations within a matter of weeks.”
Although the underlying reasons for this situation are not yet fully understood, the current number of people waiting for an endoscopy – around 1,650 – and the limits in clinical capacity to see these individuals are contributing factors.
The Minister continued: “I have been clear in recent weeks that both the number of people waiting for an endoscopy and the average waiting time for a routine appointment – currently 33 weeks – are wholly unacceptable and in the view of clinicians represent a risk to the safety of patients.
“It will now be apparent that the issue with follow-up endoscopies has been a catalyst for changes to the service announced in May. It is, of course, only right and proper that the number of patients affected was established and contact made with them before making any public announcement on the delays.
“Rectifying this has been the primary concern and focus. In due course, however, we will need to establish how this situation was able to arise in the first place and ensure similar incidents are prevented.”
Part of the immediate action taken by the Department was measures to increase capacity for endoscopies by consolidating the service at Noble’s Hospital, which could only be achieved with the transfer of staff and equipment from Ramsey and District Cottage Hospital.
This is the only theatre activity that will be transferring from Ramsey and the nursing staff will be ‘visiting’ Noble’s Hospital to deliver this service. Their base will remain Ramsey and District Cottage Hospital, and their oral surgery and dermatology surgery duties in Ramsey will not change.
The consolidation means that Noble’s Hospital’s new £1.9 million Endoscopy Suite can be more fully utilised and clinicians’ time can be redistributed to provide an additional six clinics a week: this amounts to a further 21 hours for endoscopies, or 30 additional procedures per week on average.
The additional capacity will enable the bulk of the waiting list to be cleared within 12 months and will see a dramatic reduction in endoscopy waiting times, bringing them into line with England at around six weeks.