Herts Ad investigation: patients face 18-week wait for physiotherapy services at St Albans hospital

St Albans City Hospital

St Albans City Hospital - Credit: Archant

Overstretched physiotherapy services at St Albans City Hospital are leaving many patients waiting for over 18 weeks for care, a Herts Advertiser investigation has revealed.

In September last year, 108 patients were on a waiting list for over four months, according to statistics released in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from this newspaper.

And in October, one month after the Care Quality Commission rated St Albans Hospital as inadequate overall with outpatients’ services requiring improvement, there were still 23 physiotherapy patients on the waiting list for more than 18 weeks.

John Wigley, chairman of St Albans and Harpenden Patient Group, (SAPG), said: “Clearly, there is a problem with waiting times.”

Although West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) runs St Albans City, Watford General and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals, the local hospital’s physiotherapy and speech therapy services are provided by Welwyn Garden City-based Herts Community NHS Trust (HCT).

The Herts Advertiser submitted a FoI request to the HCT after a lack of response to initial questions about waiting times.

An analysis of statistics recently supplied by the trust show that physio patients were waiting an average of nearly eight weeks to be seen.

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In September, 50 people were on the list for 10 weeks; a month later 55 patients were awaiting care for the same length of time.

There were 34 people waiting for 18 weeks for physiotherapy in September - a figure which dropped slightly to 33 in October for the same timeframe.

For adult speech and language therapy services, the figures showed that three people were on the waiting list for 14 weeks in September, while in October, four patients had to wait four months for an appointment.

HCT had not responded to questions about what was being done to tackle the waiting list at the time of going to press.

Waiting lists for audiology and gynaecological services at St Albans are provided by West Herts Hospitals Trust.

A spokesman for WHHT said that as of October last year, there were 370 outpatients on the waiting list for audiology but that was spread across all three sites.

He ‘anticipated’ that about a third would be seen at St Albans, “but we cannot be specific about numbers”. However, “all patients will be seen within six weeks, regardless of site.”

Gynaecology had a waiting list of 93 outpatients.

The spokesman added: “At present we have six permanent employees in audiology and no agency staff. In gynaecology, we have no agency staff, and nine permanent nursing staff, and make occasional use of one to two ‘bank’ staff.” This refers to people who are not currently a permanent member of staff at WHHT and would like to work extra shifts with the trust.

The nurses in this department are supported by an administration team of three permanent employees and one agency staff member.

John Wigley said the local patients’ group recognised efforts by the WHHT to bring the city’s hospital “up to scratch”. But, he added, members would welcome evidence that the trust was concentrating on specific recommendations by the Care Quality Commission about St Albans Hospital, “including improving waiting times”.

The WHHT, which was placed in special measures late last year, has recently taken on 56 new nurses to boost staffing numbers across its hospitals, with a further 76 joining the trust from Europe and beyond.