NHS waiting lists to be tackled with new ‘planned care’ hospital

NHS waiting lists
© iStock / Drazen Zigic

A new state-of-the-art hospital for ‘planned care’ has opened in Berkshire to reduce NHS waiting lists caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot will alleviate the lengthy NHS waiting lists that have built up during the pandemic, aiming to reduce the wait for routine care and prioritising patients who have been waiting the longest, such as those requiring orthopaedic and ophthalmology services.

The planned care hospital includes six operating theatres, 48 inpatient beds and 22 day-case cubicles. The hospital will perform surgical, diagnostic, and outpatient care, treating patients in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Surrey.

The cause of the COVID backlogs

The NHS has been under immense pressure throughout the pandemic, often understaffed and overworked in managing the devastating outcomes of COVID-19. This burden and stretched resources have resulted in treatments and services for other diseases and conditions being significantly impacted, leading to patients experiencing long waiting times for  treatment.

NHS hospitals have treated in excess of 600,000 patients with COVID-19, including more than 100,000 people admitted so far during the Omicron wave. Additionally, NHS staff and volunteers have worked to deliver over 118 million vaccines doses, including 32 million booster doses, making it the most extensive and successful vaccination programme in health service history. However, this monumental achievement has come at the cost of other health services, causing COVID backlogs that the new Heatherwood Hospital looks to reduce.

Prioritising routine care

The recently published elective recovery plan outlined the blueprint of how to reduce the NHS waiting lists that have accumulated during the pandemic, revealing aims of increasing capacity over the next three years to perform around 17 million diagnostic tests.

The Heatherwood Hospital will supplement these goals, housing an array of outpatient services under the same roof, including gynaecology, urology, cardiology, endoscopy, physiotherapy, phlebotomy and radiology checks and treatments.

The new hospital follows a range of other community initiatives aiming to reduce NHS waiting lists, providing life-saving health checks to thousands of patients, including one-stop diagnostic centres, same-day hip replacements and mobile CT and MRI scanners.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive, said: “This fantastic new facility shows how the NHS is adapting and changing to meet current demands – putting in practice what we learnt about planned care during the pandemic. While new dedicated surgical hubs have been made available across the country to help protect non-urgent care, this hospital is the first purpose-built facility aimed at tackling COVID backlogs and getting quicker checks and treatments for patients who need routine care.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This brand-new hospital will be the first of its kind on our road to recovery and reform, putting patients in need of non-urgent care first and helping them to get the checks and treatments they need. We are delivering on our promise to tackle the COVID backlogs by ramping up routine surgery and providing quicker diagnoses – alongside other initiatives, which include new surgical hubs and Community Diagnostic Centres, helping us to deliver 9 million more treatments, scans, and operations by 2024.”

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “We continue to pull out all the stops to address COVID backlogs in routine care that have inevitably built up, and this new hospital in Berkshire is a brilliant example of what we are doing to reduce long waits. While seasonal pressures and COVID cases continue, we are determined to make the best possible use of the additional recovery investment and ‘one-stop shops’, one-day hip replacements, and mobile CT and MRI scanners are just a snapshot of the initiatives our teams are driving forward to accelerate vital treatments, tests and checks for patients. As we have said throughout the pandemic, it is so important that anyone who needs healthcare continues to come forward for NHS help and support.”

Neil Dardis, Chief Executive, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This will be one of the best-planned care hospitals in the NHS, using technology and innovation to provide the best treatments and experience for our patients. The entire building has been designed to provide easy, efficient, and excellent care and help to reduce waiting times for patients needing planned procedures. Heatherwood Hospital is incredibly important to our community, and I’m so pleased for our teams to be working in such a fantastic facility that will greatly improve care for our patients.”


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