THERE is a growing hidden waiting list of thousands of patients unable to be referred by their GPs for hospital services in the county.

That was the accusation put to health bosses at Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust (OUH) at a meeting of Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday.

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Lisa Glynn, the interim director of clinical services at the trust, told the meeting throughout the pandemic its hospitals, which also include the Churchill, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Banbury’s Horton General, have remained open across specialties for suspected cancer or other urgent cases.

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Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting

She claimed only ‘a very few’ specialties were still closed to routine referrals, adding: “What we need to take into account when we consider reopening services is the volume of patients that are already on our waiting list and coupled with the capacity that we have available being severely restricted due to the covid pandemic.”

She added the trust was working on ways to solve these problems, including sending patients to neighbouring trusts or using private providers.

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Ms Glynn said reopening specialities, which include ear, nose and throat (ENT) conditions, as well as gynaecology, would depend on getting referrals times below 12 weeks.

The focus on routine referrals came after the Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee (LMC) last month said it had taken the ‘unprecedented’ action of demanding an end to a delay in restoring routine referrals to all specialist hospital services in Oxford.

It claimed despite it being months since the government instructed hospitals reopen to routine patient referrals OUH was still closed for a ‘significant number’ of high-demand specialities.

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Dr Raman Nijjar

Dr Raman Nijjar, who is chair of the Oxfordshire LMC as well as a GP in Bicester, speaking at the meeting, said he did not think the trust understood the scale of the problem and had three pages of cases studies where patient care was ‘appalling to say the least’.

He added he found the response from the trust ‘frightening’ in mentioning only reopening some specialties when referrals waits were below 12 weeks, saying ENT wasn't there before covid and accused OUH of ‘putting figures before patients’ by not letting people ‘even join the queue’.

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Dr Nijjar also said sending people out of the county for treatment was not a realistic option for many and added the numbers waiting were still unknown, saying: "Nobody has actually captured that data because I can't refer in. We've estimated it at about 7,000."

Committee chairman Arash Fatemian questioned if OUH and the Clinical Commissioning Group were ‘refusing the acknowledge the scale of the problem’ by not to adding people to waiting lists.

He added: "It's all very well talking about getting excess capacity from elsewhere but if the number of people needing referrals is wider than capacity then what are we going to do?"