People waiting two or more years for a medical procedure are being encouraged to seek hospital treatment in a different part of the country where services aren’t so stretched.
The move is part of an NHS “final push” to “virtually eliminate” the number of patients waiting two years or more to have surgery.
So far, only 140 patients have been “matched” with hospitals outside of their local area to have treatment.
But, the NHS said it’s on track to arrange treatment for 6,700 people in England by the end of July.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “As part of the biggest and most ambitious catch-up programme in NHS history, staff are now on track to virtually eliminate two-year waiters by the end of July.
“But the NHS will not stop here, from delivering one million tests and checks through our newly rolled-out community diagnostic centres to new state-of-the-art same-day hip replacements, staff are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to treat patients quicker, especially those who have been waiting a long time.”
Costs for travel and accommodation will be covered but for the plan to work patients will have to be willing and able to go further afield for treatment.
Francis Wakefield, 67, has been waiting for corrective eye surgery for three years after complications from a previous procedure left him with distorted vision.
“Since having the cataract surgery and the implants put in my eye, I’ve suffered with triple vision,” says Mr Wakefield.
Watching TV or looking at a computer screen for longer than 10 minutes can bring on severe headaches.
Instead of seeing words on a screen or objects as they actually appear Mr Wakefield sees three of everything.
“Migraines I’ve had for years, but the triple vision means they’re constant. It’s daily.”
But travelling far for surgery would be impossible because he’s also suffered from chronic pain since being involved in a car accident in 1999.
Mr Wakefield’s mobility is severely limited and simple movements can leave him in agony.
He lives near Blackpool and says a journey to a hospital just an hour away would be too hard for him.
“That would be a nightmare for me and I wouldn’t just be able to go straight there and straight back,” explains Mr Wakefield.
For other patients, travel will not be a barrier to surgery and could be the only solution to getting timely treatment for a chronic health issue.
Under this new scheme, patients waiting for surgery in Derbyshire and Staffordshire have already received treatment in Northumberland, while an Orthopaedic Centre in London has provided care for patients from the southwest.
NHS waiting lists reached a record high in England in April, with 6.48 million people, in total, waiting for treatment, compared to 4.42 million in April 2019.
While many hospitals focused on treating COVID patients during the pandemic, other procedures were delayed, including critical cancer treatments.
More than 1,000 people waiting longer than 12 hours
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Although illnesses like cancer could be difficult to care for far from home because treatment can be prolonged, some in the medical community have welcomed the push to utilise hospitals with the capacity to help reduce the backlog.
Dr Anil Mehta, a GP and the clinical chair in Redbridge, northeast London, said: “I think we shouldn’t be too concerned about patients being offered care out-of-area as long as there are provisions, for instance, for people who go for knee and hip operations to have follow-up care locally if needed.”