New figures show the continuing toll of the pandemic on health services across Leeds

The chief executive of Leeds hospitals has described the “enormous difficulties and challenges” of the past 12 months as new figures show the impact the pandemic continues to have on the city’s health services.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 5:27 pm

The number of Covid-19 patients at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust (LTHT) is currently the lowest it has been for the past six months - allowing health chiefs to now increase the amount of elective surgery and treatments which had been affected by this latest wave of cases.

In his report to this Thursday’s trust board meeting, Julian Hartley, chief executive, said he was “immensely proud” of staff for rising to the challenge of the pandemic.

“It has been a year which none of us would have hoped for or expected. There have been enormous difficulties and challenges over the past 12 months but I am proud to look back on our achievements and how staff have stepped forward and gone the extra mile,” he wrote.

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Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. Picture: James Hardisty

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He said more than 3,200 Covid-19 patients had been discharged home following hospital admissions since the pandemic began, but said the hospital Covid-19 death toll currently stood at 1,058.

At the time of writing the report, there were 57 Covid-19 patients in the trust, with 11 in critical care - the lowest number for six months.

He said: “It is positive, therefore, that we have been able to convert parts of the hospital back to provide other treatment and increase the amount of elective surgery we provide.”

And the latest figures show how vital this move will be in clearing the backlog of patients who have been waiting for treatment during this latest wave and for the past 12 months. .

Due to the suspension and reduced levels of elective and outpatient services, there is now a record high in Leeds of the number patients who have been waiting over a year for hospital treatment - with a total of 4,463 as of February 2021, a figure which has been rising since March 2020.

And bosses at Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, in their board papers, say they expect this figure to rise further “as the volume of patients tipping in to 52 weeks is higher than current capacity to treat.”

It adds: “As additional theatre is offered to specialities, the focus will be on dating patients in priority order for treatment. Once the more clinically urgent patients are treated, LTHT can then begin to ensure the longer waits are treated next.”

The numbers of patients being dealt with in A&E within the four-hour target timeframe has also fallen to the lowest in at least three years, with just 74.1 per cent in February - substantially lower than the 95 per cent target.

A higher proportion of more severely-ill patients attending and difficulties in patient flow due to Covid testing and bed supply were cited as factors affecting the trust's capacity to meet the four-hour standard.

Waiting times for outpatients remains the number one concern raised with hospital PALS - the patient advice and liaison service - followed by issues over communication with relatives during the pandemic.

Across primary care, declines have also been seen in the uptake of cervical screening across Leeds, particularly among the 25-49 age group - but Leeds CCG said the last few months has seen targeted action across the city to understand and address any barriers to screening uptake.

Decreases have also been reported in childhood immunisations and physical health checks of people with severe mental illnesses, as well as in various long term condition indicators.

The CCG board papers said: “This is due to a number of factors but mainly due to a backlog in activity and capacity as a result of the Covid vaccination programme.”

In mental health, dementia diagnosis rates reportedly fell from March to September 2020 because the Memory Assessment Service was paused during the Covid crisis - with a particular decline seen in Spring 2020 which the CCG report said was “likely caused by excess deaths of people with dementia diagnosis, related to the initial impact of Covid in care homes”.

But it said diagnosis activity has since recovered well, according to performance data from Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health and learning disability services across the two cities.

In Leeds, the service saw 329 patients between October and December, compared to the 404 seen over the same months the previous year - however 60 per cent of patients currently on the waiting list have waited over 24 weeks, compared to the usual eight-week target.

Mr Hartley, in his chief executive’s report to the LTHT board said, he hopes that now is a turning point, with the last 12 months never to be repeated.

He wrote: “While we may experience future increases in community transmission, we all hope that we will not see a return to the number of hospitalisations we have seen in this third wave and our next 12 months are much different from the last.

“We hope to be able to dedicate more resource and focus on the reset and renewal of our services and support staff and patients.”

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