PERFORMANCE: North Bristol Trust will refuse new referrals for spinal surgery after identifying scores of patients were waiting more than a year for procedures.

The restriction will be introduced through changes to the trust’s GP referral criteria.

A number of non-urgent patients on North Bristol’s waiting list are already being referred to the privately run BMI Ridgeway Hospital in Swindon, a spokesman for South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group confirmed.

The CCG has also asked another NHS hospital and a private hospital to perform non-urgent spinal surgery on new patients.

The trust said it aimed to restore full access to treatment within 18 months.

A statement from trust medical director Chris Burton said: “Nationally, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of referrals in this field, with few hospitals across the country offering this complex spinal service, combined with a shortage of experienced spinal surgeons.

“As a result, at North Bristol Trust this situation has led to more than 100 patients from across the region waiting more than 12 months for surgery, which we consider to be unacceptable.

“Our first duty has to be for our patients we have already accepted onto our waiting list.

“The altering of our referral criteria will mean we can work through the backlog, as well as carrying out new urgent and emergency cases, with the aim of restoring the service fully within 18 months.

“The emergency and routine spinal service for children at Bristol Children’s Hospital remain unaffected.

“We believe this decision is in the best interest of our existing patients,” Dr Burton said.

“This decision has been taken with the full support of our commissioners, [which] will now identify and manage alternative arrangement for the non-urgent patient referrals.”

Jonathan Hayes, CCG chair, said: “To enable treatment of the longest waiting and most urgent spinal surgery patients at North Bristol Trust, a joint decision has been taken to change the GP referral criteria for access to treatment of new non-urgent patients who require this service.”