NEW arthritis patients in east Cheshire could be forced to travel further afield for treatment while clinic bosses clear their waiting list.

East Cheshire NHS Trust has asked the area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) to temporarily restrict the number of referrals that GPs make to its rheumatology services.

It comes after one of the trust’s two rheumatology consultants had been on sick leave, while the other has planned annual leave this month, and health chiefs would expect the waiting list to increase if referrals continue.

The trust now wants other hospital trusts to help it clear a backlog of patients waiting for treatment before GPs can begin referring their patients to clinics in east Cheshire again.

John Wilbraham, chief executive of East Cheshire NHS Trust, told directors that there is a risk patients would not be able to receive treatment at all if referrals are not restricted.

“It is with regret that this action has to be taken but patient safety must be maintained,” he said.

“The clinical risk of patients not being seen is of concern and discussions with the CCG have led to the temporary restriction of e-referrals to the trust.

“The operational team is seeking support from other trusts to reduce the backlog until the consultant team is back to full strength.”

East Cheshire NHS Trust runs rheumatology clinics at Macclesfield Hospital, Knutsford Community Health Centre, Congleton War Memorial Hospital, Handforth Health Centre and Waters Green Medical Centre, in Macclesfield.

The clinics provide diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care for conditions including arthritis, connective tissue disease and osteoporosis.

If agreed with Eastern Cheshire CCG and supported by other trusts, the move would be temporary until the backlog is cleared.