A GROWING backlog of patients, looming winter pressures and tackling health inequality are among the challenges facing the county’s health providers as they plan next steps following the coronavirus peak.

The problems and opportunities arising from the pandemic were discussed during a virtual meeting of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group's board yesterday.

A document setting out recovery plans highlighted managing the backlog of patients and waiting lists, safely resuming clinical work, preparing for winter and supporting the existing workforce as some of the key challenges.

One of the more severe problems is a growing number of patients referred but still waiting for treatment.

Discussing an integrated performance report, which sets out how the CCG is doing compared with national targets, Diane Hedges, deputy chief executive of the CCG, said: "Before we went into covid we already had challenges on our referral to treatment side of things. So we are now challenged with a very high and worrying number of predicted 52-week waits.

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"The numbers are being reviewed between the CCG and the trust as to how those might come out but we are talking many thousands of patients that are at risk of becoming 52 weeks and the actual numbers of 52 weeks are clearly and visibly rising so it is actually happening."

She added 'comprehensive' work was being done 'at all levels' working with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Shelley Hayles, planned care and cancer clinical lead for the CCG said staff being redeployed within the trusts and the extra time needed for additional cleaning and using protective gear was also still having a knock-on impact.

The report showed as of May, the latest available data, 327 people had been waiting longer than a year, up from 123 in April. By comparison in May, 2019 there were only eight still waiting after the same period.

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This paper also reported earlier this week on new mental health referrals figures for April showing the number of people with depression or anxiety referred for therapy in the county has almost halved compared with last year.

Health inequality and how to tackle it was also mentioned and how providers can work together to address the problem and the variations in health outcomes among some of the most vulnerable groups, such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities known to be more at risk from Covid-19.

The document also stated the recovery was being coordinated across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) and it would build on partnerships between providers strengthened during the coronavirus outbreak.