PATIENTS in the Horsham district have to endure some of the longest waiting times for referrals in the country, according to new figures.
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs East Surrey Hospital, was the fifth worst for waiting times out of 227 Trusts in England.
More than 30 per cent of patients have to wait longer than 18 weeks and five per cent waited for longer than 35 weeks, according to the Department of Health figures.
Meanwhile the number of West Sussex patients who waited longer than 18 weeks for referrals has risen by 31 per cent since May 2010.
Referral to Treatment Time (RTT) is the period taken for a patient to be seen by a consultant following GP referral.
Ninety-five per cent of patients should be seen by a consultant within 18 weeks, according to the NHS constitution.
Speaking to the County Times this week about his continuing plans for a new hospital Horsham MP Francis Maude spoke with regret about the service at East Surrey.
He said: “East Surrey is not a popular hospital and more than half its patients now come from West Sussex, and they have to travel 20 odd miles through Surrey, a congested and difficult bit of Surrey, to traverse to get there.
“So frankly, whether the A&E survives at Redhill is a second order issue for me. My main concern is my constituents here, local residents here in Horsham and in Crawley get a wretchedly bad service at the moment.
“One of the things I regret most in my time as MP here is that when the merger of Crawley Hospital with Redhill took place I did not resist it. I was rash enough to believe what I was told by the NHS bureaucrats, that they would keep all the services at Crawley.
“It turned out not to be true. Gradually they were salami sliced, and all of the acute services went up to Redhill with the result that the A&E at Crawley was closed and maternity was closed and we ended up with for most of my constituents the nearest acute hospital being 20 miles away.
“The hospital services that my constituents have to put up with are lamentable, inconvenient - and even if East Surrey got its act together and started to be a brilliant four star rated hospital it is still in the wrong place.”
West Sussex Link, a patient group which works with the hospitals, has not yet discussed the RTT results, but member John Gooderham, gave his own opinion on the issue.
“[The Trust] knows, we know and everyone has known for a long time that East Surrey is not big enough for the area it serves.
“We also know they have wanted to do something about it and the opening of a new unit with 40 beds, I think next week, should help things.
“Only time will tell, but logic says that if you have more beds you would not have to keep them waiting for as long.
“There’s a problem everywhere and I think nationally there’s increased pressure from the deputy chief executive of the NHS for hospital to get their act together and concentrate on getting waiting times down.”
A spokesman for Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said: “We are working closely with our PCT partners to achieve a sustainable solution to the challenges in meeting 18-week waiting times.
“The 18-week performance target is closely linked to that of overall trust capacity, which we are addressing. The new modular wards, due to be completed later this month, will enable us to protect our elective beds, which are used for scheduled surgery.
“In addition, there are further initiatives that support our improvements, including the opening of the Day Surgery Unit in November 2011 – an eight-bedded unit dedicated to providing patients who need day surgery with their own bed space. This enabled us to increase day case rates and reduce the need for in patient beds.”