NHS waiting list for routine treatment hits 12-year high


NHS waiting times have spiralled to their highest level in 12 years, official statistics revealed today.

The number of people in England forced to wait at least a year for routine treatment rocketed to almost 140,000 in September — the largest backlog since 2008.

It marks a 100-fold surge in the waiting list compared to the same month last year, when 1,300 patients were put on hold for more than 12 months.

NHS figures today also revealed cancer referrals hit a record low, with almost 30,000 suspected to be waiting more than two weeks between an urgent GP referral and their first appointment.

Experts fear the desperate situation will only get worse because the second wave of the pandemic is forcing hospitals to cancel hundreds more routine surgeries and appointments in order to manage surging Covid-19 patient numbers.

The cancellations are being made even though some wards are nowhere near as busy as they were in the first wave, and Covid hospital admissions appear to have stabilised. 

The ex-president of the Society for Acute Medicine said the worrying falls ‘clearly show the pressure the system is under’ which is ‘almost certainly’ due to reductions in capacity in hospitals.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the numbers suggested ‘winter has come early’ to the health service.

This graph shows that the number of people waiting more than a year for surgeries has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck the NHS in March this year

Average Covid-19 hospitalisations per day peaked in the North West on October 26, and in London on October 29, suggesting NHS may not be faced with surging Covid-19 patients

Average Covid-19 hospitalisations per day peaked in the North West on October 26, and in London on October 29, suggesting NHS may not be faced with surging Covid-19 patients

A&E ATTENDANCE BELOW LEVELS SEEN A YEAR AGO 

A&E attendances at hospitals in England continue to be below levels of a year ago, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

A total of 1.6 million attendances were recorded in October 2020, down 26 per cent from 2.2 million in October 2019.

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NHS England said the fall is ‘likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response’ – suggesting that people are still staying away from A&E departments because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The year-on-year drop in A&E attendances of 26 per cent in October compares with falls of 20 per cent in September, 19 per cent in August and 30 per cent in July.

The data from NHS England also shows 1.72million patients were waiting more than five months – 18 weeks – to start treatment in September.

This is down from 1.96million in August, but triple the equivalent figure for September 2019 of 672,112.

The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was also down 27 per cent in September compared with a year ago.

Some 209,562 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, down from 288,230 in September 2019. 

Meanwhile, accident and emergency attendances at hospitals in England remained less busy than they were a year ago. 

A total of 1.6million attendances were recorded in October, down 26 per cent from 2.2million in the same month of 2019.

NHS England said the fall is ‘likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response’ – despite health chiefs urging the public to keep using the NHS as normal during the winter.

A leaked report suggested NHS hospitals were no busier than normal in October, even as ministers added more restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The report, seen by The Telegraph, said only 84 per cent of beds in hospitals were occupied, which is lower than in previous years.

Further figures also suggested that only 19 hospital trusts in England were currently dealing with more hospital patients than during the first peak. 

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Despite rapidly rising Covid hospitalisations, cancer services are now back at pre-pandemic levels, GP appointments are running ahead of this time last year, and hospitals have made particular progress in bringing back overnight elective operations.

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‘But it is clear that where there are higher levels of Covid we are seeing an impact on routine non-urgent care, so the public can play their part by continuing to help stop the spread of the virus.’ 

Leaked documents, seen by The Telegraph, revealed intensive care units nationally are no busier than normal for this time of year for most trusts, pouring extra cold water on claims the NHS is close to being overrun

Leaked documents, seen by The Telegraph, revealed intensive care units nationally are no busier than normal for this time of year for most trusts, pouring extra cold water on claims the NHS is close to being overrun

It comes after a leaked document showed hospital bed occupancy this year dropped to its lowest percentage for a decade when medics had to turf out thousands of inpatients to make room for a predicted surge in people with Covid-19. Now that normal care has resumed, a leaked report suggests there are still fewer than average numbers of beds in use

It comes after a leaked document showed hospital bed occupancy this year dropped to its lowest percentage for a decade when medics had to turf out thousands of inpatients to make room for a predicted surge in people with Covid-19. Now that normal care has resumed, a leaked report suggests there are still fewer than average numbers of beds in use 

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: ‘Today’s figures really bring home the impact of Covid-19 on other NHS services. Thousands of patients who were already waiting for surgery when Covid-19 struck, have paid a heavy price. It is tragic to see so many lives put on hold.

‘Each statistic represents someone waiting patiently, potentially in pain, for the treatment they need to get on with living an independent life. Older people and poorer people are particularly hard hit by these delays.

The NHS waiting list has spiralled to its highest level in 12 years (stock photo)

The NHS waiting list has spiralled to its highest level in 12 years (stock photo)

‘We still have a tough winter to get through, but looking ahead to next year, our ambition must be that no one should have to wait more than a year for surgery again. The NHS needs a ‘new deal’ to get back on track after the devastation caused by the pandemic, with extra investment from government in hospital beds and staff.’

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Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to latest NHS performance statistics, said: ‘The winter has come early for the NHS with the worst October on record for trolley waits and almost 140,000 people now waiting in pain and distress beyond a year for a treatment. 

‘Trolley waits at these levels are unacceptable at the best of times but in a Covid pandemic when infection control is so crucial this is dangerous and concerning for patients and staff.

‘Years of underfunding, bed cuts and understaffing left our NHS exposed when the Coronavirus epidemic hit us.

‘It is vital that the upcoming Spending Review delivers the resources our health and care services need to bring waiting times down, provide quality Covid care and lead the roll out of a vaccine.’

The NHS was moved to level four alert at the start of this month, in response to mounting coronavirus cases.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, claimed the move to level four was in response to the ‘serious situation ahead’. He warned non-Covid treatment would be disrupted again if the outbreak ‘takes off’. 

But figures suggest these have since plateaued, and Covid-19 hospital admissions have already peaked in London and the North West and are starting to fall in the East of England.

Numbers from the Department of Health’s own coronavirus dashboard reveal daily average Covid-19 admissions hit 308.4 on October 26 in the North West but have been dropping every day since.

They had fallen 13 per cent to 268.4 by November 4, the day before England’s second lockdown was introduced. No fresher data has yet been released.

And in Tier Two London hospitalisations appeared to peak seven days before lockdown, dropping eight per cent from 127.4 to 117.7 in the seven-day spell up to November 4.



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