From the Essex Chronicle, 7 January 2011.
NHS bosses have been accused of putting residents' health at risk by delaying hospital appointments and scrapping services in a desperate bid to save millions.
People across Brentwood and Billericay now face new “extended waiting times” of at least 14 weeks for all routine appointments, as part of a move that will save the cash-strapped primary care trust an estimated £8 million.
A whole host of services have been axed, which will force patients to look to the private sector for specialist care.
NHS South West Essex also issued all GPs across the region with a list of referrals they have scrapped due to crippling debt, ranging from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and ME to the management of gallstones and inguinal hernia repair.
It is all part of a wide-range of drastic cuts to healthcare announced in October, as primary care trust bosses bid to save £52 million by the end of this financial year to balance the books.
A longstanding Brentwood GP, who did not want to be named, fears delayed referrals and scrapped services could leave patients' health at risk.
He said it would result in many more weeks or even months of anxious waiting for residents before they could be seen by a specialist, while some services were not available at all.
He said: “This will result in the long outpatient waiting times last seen in the 1980s and 90s when it was common to wait 18 months for a hip replacement.
“But worse, this time such routine procedures like hernia repairs and gall bladder surgery is to be restricted. This is potentially very dangerous and is not the health service that I was proud to join 30 years ago.
“People's health is potentially at risk,” he added.
Elderly residents, including those with more serious complaints, have raised concerns over longer waiting lists this week and fear for the future of the NHS in Brentwood and Billericay.
Some worry urgent referrals or surgery may be in the firing line in the future, although this is strongly denied by NHS South West Essex.
Chairman of the Brentwood and District branch of Age Concern, Ken Wright, said they had not yet heard of any delayed appointments but feared it could hit the elderly in the future.
He said: “It is quite serious in terms of elderly patients. Their health may not be as good as younger people, so therefore the referral time is much more critical.”