The number of patients waiting for hospital treatment in North Devon has soared as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The virus’s peak between March and May saw the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment with Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) increase from seven to 131 – a leap of 1,771 per cent.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected the number of patients starting treatment within the 18-week target time.

Figures for May showed 56.7 per cent of people were treated within the 18-week target – down from 71.5 per cent in March – with 4,951 people waiting more than 18 weeks.

NDHT division director Heather Brazier said the trust was working with the county’s other hospitals to find a way of managing the fight against coronavirus alongside its normal services.

She said: “We know how frustrating it is for patients to have their operations delayed and that some people have had to wait longer than they, or we, would have liked.

“There is a great deal of effort and innovation under way to reconfigure our services to manage Covid-19 alongside our normal services. Owing to the complexity of this task we are collaborating on this with all hospitals in Devon.

“The safety of our patients is our main priority and this is will be overriding factor when re-starting services. We therefore ask patients to bear with us as we work towards getting these services back to normal.”

NDHT is working to address the backlog brought on by a suspension of non-emergency procedures at the height of the pandemic.

The trust has restarted non-emergency surgery, albeit it at 75 per cent capacity, with more than 400 procedures carried out since June.

Operations are being prioritised in order of ‘clinical priority’, in line with new national guidance.

The trust said it was ‘not currently possible’ to say how long it may take to return to full capacity, as changes to the hospital building are needed.

A statement said: “As we expect to be living with Covid-19 for some time we, like all hospitals, are having to make some changes to ensure that we minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

“We have needed to re-purpose some areas within the hospital, and the requirement to ensure social distancing has also reduced capacity in some areas.

“There is a requirement to make some changes to the hospital building to enable the trust to return to full capacity, so it is not currently possible to say how long this will take.”