Published: 16:32, 18 May 2022
| Updated: 16:59, 18 May 2022
New plans to create an orthopaedic unit in a Kent hospital to tackle a backlog of surgical treatments have been described as "transformatory".
A fresh case has been put forward by the NHS in Kent to create a modernised "barn theatre" in Maidstone Hospital by March 2023 amid delays for patients.
Orthopaedic treatments are typically for musculoskeletal disorders, such as hip and knee replacements, along with operations for hands and shoulders.
More than 1,700 Kent patients have been"in pain" as they wait over 12 months for orthopaedic surgery, according to the NHS.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr Andy Taylor described the lengthy wait times as "embarrassing" during a public meeting in County Hall, Maidstone last week.
He told a panel of Kent county councillors: "Although we have worked hard to keep emergency operating theatres functioning, the elective procedures were unfortunately and inevitably delayed."
In the UK's health sector, orthopaedic operations have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, including across Kent and Medway.
Kent's NHS is finding solutions to clear the high waiting list.
Under this, a plan has been unveiled by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust to tackle the backlog, involving hundreds of patients, by building the new unit at Maidstone Hospital.
Barn theatres consist of a main surgical area and an air canopy over each station to prevent the spread of infection and recovery areas.
Dr Taylor described the orthopaedic recovery plans as "exciting" when Kent County Council's (KCC) health scrutiny committee met last Wednesday.
At Maidstone Hospital, the proposed facility will include four new operating theatres and have a total capacity for 3,360 orthopaedic cases per year.
Each operating theatre is expected to have capacity for 840 operations a year. It will include a 20-bed inpatient ward and a 16-bed day ward.
Romney Marsh county councillor Tony Hills (Con) described the proposal as "intriguing", adding: "I can see this being so much better for staff being in a shared environment. I hope it will give better staff retention."
The barn theatre will be shared between the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and other hospitals in Kent and Medway.
In the long-term, Kent NHS chiefs anticipate shorter operation waits, fewer cancellations, greater capacity and improved staff recruitment and retention.
The majority of Kent county councillors expressed their support last week.
Ashford county councillor Paul Bartlett (Con), who is the chairman of KCC's health scrutiny committee, described the plan as "potentially transformatory".
Malling North East county councillor Andrew Kennedy (Con), who also sits on the panel, said: “This is a step in the right direction to stop cancellations. I think this is a very good move.”