NHS patients on waiting lists in Suffolk feel they are not receiving the right help to manage their conditions, with serious consequences for their lives, a watchdog survey has found.

Health and social care champion Healthwatch Suffolk discovered only 39% of patients were being supported while they were waiting for hospital care, which has affected their ability to socialise, work and care for loved ones.

The research among 1,400 local patients comes at a time when healthcare services are battling lengthy waiting lists triggered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A lack of communication was highlighted in the report, with people frequently commenting about the need for improved information about their wait from local services, while others reported the stress and anxiety of ‘not knowing’ was affecting their mental health.

Data also suggested multi-ethnic communities may face poorer outcomes from hospital delays, but additional research is needed to confirm this.

People who identified as having a diagnosed mental health difficulty, caring responsibilities, autism, a disability, or a learning disability were also among the most likely to have a poorer experience waiting for care.

The results have prompted Healthwatch Suffolk to call for health and care leaders to think differently about how people waiting for treatment, or a diagnosis, are supported.

Wendy Herber, independent chair of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “Our findings show how people’s lives have been affected in so many ways, with serious consequences for their wellbeing.

“From financial stress to suicidal thoughts, broken relationships and much more, the impact of delays to hospital care are undeniably significant.

“That is why our health and care systems must also look beyond the ‘end goal’ of an operation or procedure.

“Whilst patients may be physically improved, the wider impacts of their wait may have a lasting influence on their life for many years to come.”

She called for health systems to "act compassionately" and account for long-term impacts when developing plans, with improvements coming from brave decision-making and integrated care systems working effectively.

East Anglian Daily Times: Richard Watson, deputy chief executive for NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care BoardRichard Watson, deputy chief executive for NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board (Image: NHS)

Richard Watson, deputy chief executive for NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board, which plans and buys healthcare services, said: “As we hopefully leave those very dark days of the Covid pandemic behind us, which have so negatively impacted NHS services, the focus must certainly be on reducing waiting times for treatment as well as best supporting those who are waiting.

“It’s a task involving all our health and care partners to make sure this happens and I want to thank health and social care staff across the patch for their tremendous efforts so far.”

Dr Paul Molyneux, interim medical director for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital, said: “Unfortunately, due to the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and issues around maintaining our ageing estates, it is taking longer to see patients than we would like and we are sorry to every patient who is having to wait.

“We realise how any delay in treatment can cause frustration, distress and anxiety for patients and their families.

“We will use the insights from the Healthwatch Suffolk survey to help us improve the method, frequency and accessibility of the information and communication we provide patients to help improve their experience whilst they’re waiting for treatment and care.”