Cambs most vulnerable being 'left to wait months for NHS help'

VULNERABLE, sick and disable people in Huntingdonshire are being so poorly served by the NHS that a charity said it is having to step in to help. Adults and children who need help from the NHS to allow them to live in their own homes can face waits of mor

VULNERABLE, sick and disable people in Huntingdonshire are being so poorly served by the NHS that a charity said it is having to step in to help.

Adults and children who need help from the NHS to allow them to live in their own homes can face waits of more than 36 WEEKS to be assessed by an occupational therapist (OT).

The Huntingdon Freemen's Charity is so angry that the district's residents have to wait so long to see if they are entitled to help that it has started paying for the service privately.

The charity says it has been monitoring the situation for more than two years and has been so shocked by the examples it has seen.

These include:

nAn elderly person who needed a level access shower having to wait eight months for assessment

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nA woman who was unable to get upstairs and had to wash in a kitchen sink was told she would face a 14-week wait for an assessment

nA child with behaviour problems, who needed a space for cooling off, faced a nine to 12 month wait to be seen by an OT

Ted Bocking, the charity's chairman, said: "It is wholly unreasonable to expect someone who is sick, disabled and in urgent need of help to wait for nine months before being assessed by the local OT service. It is just not acceptable."

Over two years the charity claims that waits for OT assessments peaked at 82 weeks in May 2007 before dropping to 56 weeks in October 2007, and 17 weeks in June 2008.

But the figure rose again to 41 weeks in July of last year and is currently about 36 weeks.

In some cases the charity has stepped in to help those most in need of an assessment - a decision which goes against the charity's constitution. Its rules do not allow it to give grants in situations when public money is available.

The Huntingdon Freemen's Charity is now considering sending its bills for OT work to the NHS.

Mr Bocking added: "These people are in limbo because they cannot get Government grants until they have been assessed and we cannot help them until their Government grant is decided."

"We should not have to use money intended for other charitable causes in the town just because the NHS is letting us down. It is time that somebody took notice of the backlog in this OT service and did something about it. Frankly, we believe that a waiting time of more than a month is unacceptable to someone who is desperately in need of help."

Alison Gilbert, associate clinical director of Cambridgeshire Community Services which is responsible for providing the OT assessments, said they were in the process of recruiting more staff to deal with a high demand for the service.

"Occupational therapy assessments are prioritised according to the needs of the individuals. All patients identified as urgent will have assessments undertaken within one to three days.

"Patients with less urgent needs do experience longer waits for their assessments. Currently the maximum waiting times are 12 weeks and 36 weeks for priority two cases and priority three cases respectively.

"Across the county we have experienced a significantly higher than expected number of referrals. From April 2008 to January 2009 the average referral rate for Huntingdonshire was 50 per month. In February 2009 we received 151 referrals and 83 referrals in March 2009.

"This has affected the length of wait for priority three patients."

Another two and a half full time-equivalent staff are to be appointed to the Huntingdonshire team.

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