Record delays for tests at Preston and Chorley hospitals
Record delays for a range of medical tests were logged at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust in March as services across the NHS were suspended during the Covid-19 crisis.
Medical experts warn longer waits caused by the pandemic are likely to continue, with some seriously ill patients potentially missing out on cures.
NHS trusts provide information on how long people have been waiting for 15 key tests at the end of each month.
The procedures are used to diagnose a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancers, heart failure, sleep disorders and hearing problems.
According to NHS rules, after someone is referred for one of the tests, they should have it completed within six weeks.
But NHS England data shows 1,012 patients at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had been kept longer than that at the end of March.
At 13.5 per cent of those on the waiting list, this was the highest rate of hold-ups for the month since comparable local records began in 2014.
It was also way off the national standard that less than one per cent of patients should wait six weeks or more.
Of those who were not seen on time, 56 had been on the list at least 13 weeks.
Across England, the number of delays at the end of March shot up to 85,400 – the most for any month since the target was introduced in 2008.
At 10.2 per cent of those waiting, this was also by far the highest proportion delayed over the period.
Dr Jeanette Dickson, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said the coronavirus will have a heavy impact on certain test waits for the foreseeable future.
“While the NHS will aim to prioritise the patients with the most life-threatening conditions, some with serious illnesses have minor symptoms and so may be missed,” she added.
“Although we cannot give definite numbers, it is likely some patients with cancer may have growth of their disease while waiting for a scan, potentially losing their chance of a cure."
John Appleby, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust health think tank, also said the waits were a sign of things to come.
He said: “Given the NHS had not restarted routine work in April, this number of patients waiting longer for tests will continue to grow.”
The most common type of test to see delays at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust in March was an MRI scan, which produces detailed images of the inside of the body, and can help diagnose a range of conditions – 247 people had been waiting at least six weeks.
This was followed by 224 for peripheral neurophysiology, which tests the function of the nerves and muscles.
Another 215 people were held up for an ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves that can detect tumours.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said people were facing longer waits for tests before Covid-19.
She added: “Rising demand, and increased waiting times are patterns seen in other areas of the health service over the last decade, after a sustained period in which the NHS was underfunded relative to the well predicted growth in patient need.”
NHS England recently announced plans for hospitals to increase routine operations and procedures.
But a group of 16 unions has said rapid testing, and ample supply of protective kit are among measures that must be in place for the NHS to be reopened safely.