NEARLY a fifth of ‘planned’ care for patients in Worcestershire in the last 12 months has been provided outside of the county because of lengthy waiting times.

NHS data shows that nearly 20 per cent of procedures for patients in Worcestershire are carried out elsewhere – in part because of longer waiting times in the county compared to surrounding areas.

Some of the care must be provided outside of the county through necessity – usually because treatments such as brain and cardiac surgery are not offered in Worcestershire – but often it is because the wait would be shorter elsewhere.

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Bosses at Worcestershire Acute Hospital NHS Trust, which runs Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester, the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch and Kidderminster Hospital, are currently working through plans to cut down the longest two-year and 18-month waits for treatment.

Trust chief executive Matthew Hopkins confessed he understood why somebody would go elsewhere for quicker care but said many ‘unknowns’ over future funding were prohibiting him from planning ahead.

He said the trust had historically not invested in building more operating theatres and hiring more surgeons in the same way that other trusts, with shorter waiting times, had done so.

The trust is also having to work to cut waiting times to make itself ‘more attractive’ and is “competing” with other trusts for patients who might ordinarily look elsewhere for ‘quicker’ care.

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Mr Hopkins reiterated the trust’s main priority was reducing waiting times, even over potentially ‘balancing any budgets’, but it was a struggle to plan ahead without knowing how much money would be available.

Mr Hopkins said it would be easier to plan if the NHS returned to a ‘payment-by-result’ model – which calculates funding per patient – rather than an at-risk-to-inflation ‘block’ budget.

He said the trust needed to “deliver on what [was] in front of it first” but admitted it did not have a “viable” plan for a year's time on how to drag waiting times down to a maximum of 12 months “partly because [he didn’t] know how much money [the trust was] going to get.”

A ‘recovery’ plan, which was published by the NHS in February last year, called for all two-year waits for care to be “eliminated” within six months, 18-month waits to be removed by April this year and more-than-year-long waits to be wiped out by March 2025.

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The trust’s chief executive said government health funding had changed from pre-pandemic rules, which then saw trusts receive money per operation or procedure for every patient and awarded a ‘bonus’ for good results, or in other words, ‘payment-by-results.’

However, during the pandemic and until now, the funding became a set ‘block’ of money rather than based on the number of treatments.

The government has now promised ‘incentives’ for carrying out more care – which means extra funding if, say, a trust goes beyond the government’s waiting list cutting targets.

Mr Hopkins said this would mean the money stayed in the county rather than being handed to other hospital trusts across the West Midlands to carry out the care or procedure.

Mr Hopkins said the hope was to “close that gap” by pushing ahead with building six new operating theatres at the Alex in Redditch would mean many patients – mainly in the north of the county – moved back to being treated in Worcestershire.