VIRTUAL wards and at-home antibiotic kits are among the new initiatives to be trialled at the trust which runs Colchester Hospital in an effort to tackle lengthy NHS waiting lists.

Funding of £160million has been announced by NHS England to aid the health service’s recovery after the pandemic.

The East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, which runs Colchester Hospital, is one of a handful of trusts set to receive between £10million and £20million as part of the scheme.

The latest figures showed a record number of patients had been waiting a year or longer for routine treatment at the trust.

NHS statistics show 3,503 patients at the trust had been waiting for at least a year - 6 per cent of all those on the waiting list.

This was a huge increase from 11 the year before.

More than a quarter of cancer patients at the trust had been waiting longer than two months for treatment in February and hundreds of patients with suspected breast cancer were also not seen on time, figures show.

Nationally 4.7million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of February, the highest figure since records began in 2007.

NHS England said it is working to speed up the health service’s recovery by trialling new ways of working in 12 areas and five specialist children’s hospitals, including the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust.

The so-called “elective accelerators” will each get funding as well as extra support for new ways to increase the number of elective operations.

Patients in the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust will be part of initiatives including a high-volume cataract service, one-stop testing facilities and pop-up clinics to allow patients to be seen and discharged closer to home.

Other trials over the next three months include virtual wards and home assessments, 3D eye scanners, at-home antibiotic kits, artificial intelligence in GP surgeries and so-called “Super Saturday” clinics, bringing teams together at the weekend to offer more specialist appointments.

A spokesman for the trust said: “We are all delighted that our integrated care system in Suffolk and North Essex has been chosen to be one of a few pilot sites up and down the country to ‘speed up’ or accelerate care for patients.”

The exact amount the trust is receiving has not yet been announced.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief operating officer, said: “With Covid cases in hospitals now significantly reducing thanks to the extraordinary success of the NHS vaccination programme, our focus is now on rapidly recovering routine services.

“Early figures show teams are ahead of schedule, but we want to go further, which is why we are investing £160million to find new ways to tackle waiting lists.”