ALMOST 15,000 patients requiring treatment in the town are now waiting an average of seven weeks for routine appointments to be carried out at Barnsley Hospital, the Chronicle can reveal.

Despite local MPs urging healthcare bosses to reduce pandemic-induced backlogs, think-tank The King’s Fund said the number of people on the waiting list shows the strain on the NHS is reaching ‘unacceptable levels’.

NHS England figures show the average waiting time for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was seven weeks at the end of February - the same as in January.

However, this was shorter than the average eight-week wait a year previously during the pandemic’s height.

There were 14,922 patients on the waiting list in February - up from 14,349 in January, and 9,203 in February 2021.

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Of those, 69 had been waiting for longer than one year.

At Barnsley Hospital, 1,690 patients were waiting for one of nine standard tests, such as an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy at this time.

Of them, 315 - 19 per cent - had been waiting for at least six weeks.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, added: “Trusts are grappling with the ongoing impact of Covid-19.

“That’s meant more patients with Covid-19 in hospital beds, more staff off work, and more delayed discharges than anyone was expecting or had predicted.”

Other figures from NHS England show that of 50 patients urgently referred at Barnsley Hospital in February, 33 received cancer treatment within two months.

A month previous - when 49 patients were referred - 34 were treated within 62 days.

In February 2021, 28 patients were treated within this period, out of 41 that were referred.

Campaign groups such as the Barnsley branch of Save Our NHS have called on ministers to provide an immediate £20bn bailout to ease waiting lists, recruit more staff and fund pay rises.

Secretary Tony Nuttall said: “The NHS is short of 100,000 doctors and nurses, putting staff and patients’ safety at risk.

“As well as this staff have not had a decent pay rise for over a decade.

“The Tory government has pushed through the Health and Care Bill that tackled none of these problems.

“Instead there’s been a transfer of control of the NHS to regional boards that would include private sector representatives being able to push forward the creeping privatisation.

“Members of the public were urged to contact their MPs about the state of the NHS and to sign a petition demanding that the government provide emergency funding and real pay rises for staff.”

Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, urged the government to provide a clearer plan to deal with the ‘chronic’ shortage of GPs, doctors and nurses to set clear targets on how to reduce waiting lists and make more appointments available.

She added: “People in Barnsley are being forced to wait months and even years for treatment, often in pain and discomfort.

“It is unacceptable and will have appalling consequences for patients.

“Our local health care staff have worked heroically throughout the pandemic, but they are now stretched like never before.

“I wrote to the Health Secretary to express my concern about this and I have also raised the matter in Parliament.

“It’s clear the NHS is under a huge amount of pressure since the pandemic, resources have been redirected away from usual services in order to make staff and beds available for treating Covid-19 patients.

“However, even before Covid-19, waiting times were increasing.

“Without sufficient funding and staff, doctors and nurses in Barnsley work hard to meet increasing demand but are not given the support they need to meet it.

“A report from the National Audit Office has warned that the number of people waiting for care could double by March 2025.

“It’s people from places like ours who can’t afford for private healthcare whose health will suffer if the backlog isn’t dealt with and our NHS isn’t given the support it needs.

“The government need to wake up to the oncoming crisis and act now.”