NEARLY a quarter of children needing routine treatment at the County Durham and Darlington Trust in May had been waiting too long, with some waiting more than a year.

Families can feel as though they are in “limbo”, while long waiting lists and difficulties accessing timely care could put children’s development at risk, experts say.

NHS rules state patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led care should be seen within 18 weeks.

But new data from NHS Digital shows 23 per cent of patients on the waiting list for paediatric care at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust in May had been waiting longer.

It means 491 children waited longer than the target time.

Among those were 149 who had been waiting more than 36 weeks, at least double the recommended time.

And despite a “zero tolerance” approach to waits of more than 52 weeks, 77 children in the area had been on the waiting list for a year and one child for two years.

READ MORE: Hospitals in Darlington and County Durham to allow visitors

Across England, more than 72,600 youngsters had been on the waiting list for more than 18 weeks in May, meaning around 29 per cent had been waiting too long for treatment.

Nationally, paediatric patients are generally seen faster than those waiting for general surgery, but the figures show a larger proportion of children were facing long waits than the elderly or mentally ill in May.

The Patients Association and charity Healthwatch have called on the NHS to ensure families are kept up to date with treatment.

Chris McCann of Healthwatch said it was worrying to see that more than a quarter of children on NHS waiting lists had been awaiting treatment for more than 18 weeks.

“If some children who have underlying health conditions don’t receive timely care, this may affect their long-term development and wellbeing," he said.

The NHS figures show the number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks or a year across all treatment areas nationally fell significantly between May 2020 and May this year.

A County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust spokeswoman, said: “Like organisations across the NHS, caring for large numbers of patients very ill with Covid-19 has, over the last 15 months, caused disruption to some of our other services, which meant some patients had to wait longer than would otherwise have been the case.

"Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to care for people requiring emergency and cancer treatments.

"In recent months we have introduced additional clinics and theatre lists to ensure patients receive the treatment they need as quickly as possible and month on month, our waiting lists are reducing.

"We are sorry that some patients, including children, have waited longer than they should and are incredibly grateful to them for their patience and understanding.”

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