Walsall Healthcare Trust has instigated an action plan to clear its ‘significant’ waiting list after being hit by a ‘perfect storm’ of IT problems and heightened demand that threatens to push it £9m into the red.

Its prediction of a deficit at year end represents a deterioration in the financial position of the trust, which had aimed to be in a break even position.

Trust chief executive Richard Kirby told HSJ it had been beset by difficulties in what he described as a “tough year”.

“We have had this perfect storm of increased emergency demand, increased elective demand and big disruption due to changing from one computer system to another,” he said.

Richard Kirby

The trust has ‘the right set of actions in place’ to get back on track, Richard Kirby said

“That has left us with lots more patients waiting lots longer for their care than we want or they want.

“I think we have the right set of actions in place to get ourselves back to what is our normal track record in these areas but there is an awful lot to do at a time when there is a lot of strain in the system anyway.”

The trust confirmed to HSJ it has stopped reporting its referral to treatment time waiting list performance and is only hoping to clear the backlog by the end of the financial year.

It is unable to confirm the number of patients currently waiting longer than the 18 week target because up to half of those on its lists could be the result of data error.

Mr Kirby said work was underway to validate the data to confirm the true number of patients but said it was likely to be “significant”. However, no patient is waiting over 52 weeks, he added.

The trust points to four reasons for its deteriorating performance, including problems with its implementation of the new Lorenzo patient administration system.

Mr Kirby said that while the system was an improvement and was working correctly, it required a greater degree of data input from staff to get it up and running than had been anticipated.

These issues with implementation had contributed to a 15 per cent reduction in outpatient activity in the first quarter of 2013-14.

The trust has also faced a 25 per cent increase in emergency admissions, which it claims is related to problems at nearby Stafford Hospital.

This has forced the cancellation of more elective operations, particularly in orthopaedics and general surgery.

It has also seen a 20 per cent increase in elective referrals to orthopaedics and other breast surgery.

The trust’s action plan aims to increase elective activity in quarter three and four using waiting list initiatives within the trust supported by locum consultants.

It will also use capacity at other providers such as the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital Trust and the Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre, and by offering patients treatment at local private hospitals.

A new 30 bed acute ward is being opened in January to help alleviate bed pressures from increased emergency demand.

The plan is based on a 15 per cent increase in elective inpatient activity and a 30 per cent increase in outpatient activity.