WAITING times at Colchester Hospital are expected to get worse after the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic led to long delays for treatment.

The percentage of patients at Colchester (and Ipswich hospital) waiting less than 18 weeks for treatment after referral plummeted to 58 per cent in May, far below the national standard of 92 per cent.

Throughout the month, the joint hospital trust recorded 431 patients had waited more than a year for treatment after referral, with 112 at Colchester and 319 at Ipswich.

The figures were discussed at a meeting of the North Essex and East Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust board yesterday.

Non-executive director Eddie Bloomfield said: “Although we knew 52 week breaches were going to increase, what caught my attention was the disparity between Colchester and Ipswich, with Ipswich having three times as many.

“I wondered if there was an explanation around that, or indeed any learning in the way Colchester are managing this that might be pushed across to Ipswich.”

He added: “Do we expect this to get worse before it gets better?”

The trust’s managing director Neill Moloney said he “absolutely” predicted waiting time figures will deteriorate further.

“I think this reflects where waiting times were on the two sites with some of the constraints that were in place in advance of going into Covid-19,” he said.

“I think as we’ve observed throughout the last financial year, there has been a steady rise in the number of patients waiting in excess of 18 weeks and I think that manifested during the Covid-19 outbreak as long waits are on 52 weeks.”

Mr Moloney said the trust will continue to look combining waiting lists across hospitals, offering patients the chance to consider treatments at other locations “where the capacity exists”.

He also voiced a particular concern about cancer treatment waiting times.

“The delays with some of our urgent patients are the elements that give us most concern and we have focused our efforts as part of our recovery programme, ensuring we are trying to bring that capacity onboard,” he said.