A FIFTH of children needing routine treatment at the Dorset University Hospitals Trust in May had been waiting too long, figures show, with one 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 data from NHS Digital shows 20 per cent of patients on the waiting list for paediatric care at University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust in May had been waiting longer.

It means 267 children waited longer than the target time.

Among those were 15 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, one child in the area had been on the waiting list for a year.

A spokesperson for Dorset University Hospitals Trust said: “We appreciate that waiting longer than expected for treatment can be a worrying and anxious time, and particularly so for our younger patients.

“As part of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have had to prioritise those patients in need of the most urgent care, which includes our paediatric service, leading to larger than usual waiting times.

“We’re committed to seeing all patients who need our care as soon as we can, and are working hard to do so.”

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 Healthwatch England have called on the NHS to ensure families are kept up to date while waiting for 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.

He said the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in more patients feeling "stressed, confused and ignored" over changes to their healthcare, adding: "If some children who have underlying health conditions don’t receive timely care, this may affect their long-term development and wellbeing.

"With appointments having been cancelled last year and the NHS facing a backlog, those affected also need to be informed where they are on a waiting list."