NHS waiting list hits ANOTHER record-high of 5.83MILLION

NHS waiting list hits ANOTHER record-high with 5.83MILLION patients in need of routine operations such as hip and knee replacements now stuck in queue as health bosses warn of ‘unsustainable’ pressure

A record-high 5.83million patients are now on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment in England, official data revealed today as hospital bosses complained of ‘unsustainable’ pressures even before the winter crisis has truly kicked in.

The mammoth figure — which has snowballed since Covid struck — includes 10,000 patients who have spent two years in the queue for elective surgery, such as hip and knee replacements.

Hospitals were forced to cancel thousands of operations during the darkest days of the pandemic to make room for the infected, leaving lives ‘on hold’ for thousands of patients battling milder conditions.

Doctors today warned the build-up was ‘concerning’ because winter pressures and staffing absences have yet to hit peak levels. A poll of NHS bosses found nine in 10 felt the current situation — the backlog, winter pressures and Covid — is ‘unsustainable’ and patient care is being compromised.

Meanwhile, Labour slammed the ‘dangerously lengthy’ waiting times and warned the ‘coming weeks are set to be the most challenging in history for the NHS’.

NHS England’s damning monthly performance figures also showed:

  • Overwhelmed A&E units struggled to cope as more casualty patients than ever (7,059) were left waiting 12 hours to be treated;
  • Cancer treatment times plunged to a record low, with just 68 per cent of patients suspected by their GP to have the disease treated within the two-month target;
  • Ambulance response times soared to triple the national target, leaving heart attack and stroke patients facing 55 minute waits and paramedics warning patients are ‘at risk’;
  • NHS operators handled a record 1.01million 999 calls, forcing patients to wait 56 seconds for an answer — eight times longer than last October.

Social care bosses have warned No10’s controversial ‘no jab, no job’ policy introduced today for care home staff will only pile more pressure on NHS wards because the sector has less capacity to take on patients needing to be discharged from hospitals.

And the same mandate, which will apply to all frontline NHS workers from spring, will lead to a huge exodus of staff just as the health service comes out of a tough winter and starts to pivot back to strangling the backlog. 

The only glimmer of hope is that Covid pressures are starting to shrink, after Department of Health Data yesterday showed infections, hospitalisations and deaths were all falling week-on-week.

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data revealed today marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic

Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than one month earlier and equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier. It is also five times bigger than in September 2020 and ten times more than the same month in 2019

The NHS England data shows the backlog in September is the highest recorded since records began in 2007.

And the number of Britons waiting more than a year for treatment soared to 300,566, after five months of dropping. The figure is three per cent higher than one month earlier (292,138) and double the amount from the same month last year (139,545).

It means one in 20 people (5.2 per cent) on the list for treatment were waiting more than 12 months in September.

For comparison, in September 2019 — before the pandemic hit — just 1,305 patients were forced to wait more than 52 weeks for treatment — less than one per cent of the waiting list.

And data for A&E shows 2.1million people turned up for emergency care in October. And it was the busiest October ever for major A&E departments — which includes those working 24-hours that accept A&E admissions and have full resuscitation facilities — with 1.4million patients attending them, compared to 1.3million in October 2019. 

But despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than one month earlier and equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. 

Ambulance response times are THREE TIMES higher than NHS target

Patients are ‘at risk’ from record ambulance delays, paramedics have said, as average response times in England now triple the national standard.     

NHS England figures show the average ambulance response time to Category 2 calls, which includes stroke and other emergencies, was nearly 55 minutes in October, compared with the target time of 18 minutes. 

The NHS also had a record 1,012,143 calls to 999 in October but those who called had to wait an average of 56 seconds for an answer. 

This a 700 per cent increase to waiting times for answer compared to October last year when it took operators just seven seconds to answer a 999 call.

The most serious Category 1 call for an ambulance, where patients have a life threatening event such as a cardiac arrest or severe allergic reaction also had an increase in delays. 

These incidents should be responded to within seven minutes but patients had to wait an average of nine minutes and 20 seconds in October.

The data on ambulance delays comes as NHS leaders warn the health service is facing unsustainable pressure due to Covid and winter pressures, the backlog of care, and now concerns over staffing levels in social care due to the Government’s vaccine mandate. 

There have been problems with ambulance care elsewhere in the UK as well, with the Scottish Police Federation saying officers have driven patients to hospital, and the military brought in to ease strain on the system in Wales.

Richard Webber, of the College of Paramedics and a working paramedic, told the BBC that his colleagues ‘have never before experienced anything like this at this time of the year’. 

The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier. It is also five times bigger than in September 2020 and ten times more than the same month in 2019. 

Meanwhile, nearly 370,000 patients in England were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in September.

A total of 369,207 patients were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy, NHS England said.

The equivalent number waiting for more than six weeks in September 2020 was 419,841, while pre-pandemic in September 2019 there were 38,802. 

And some 231,421 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in September, up 15 per cent from the 201,013 reported in September last year. The equivalent figure for September 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 195,196.

Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present — though not initially suspected — were up from 11,122 in September last year to 12,088 in September 2021.

But the proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within a month has fallen to the lowest level since records began in 2009.

The health service’s own standards set out that 96 per cent of people should begin treatment, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, within 30 days of the patient and doctor deciding to proceed with it.

But in September, just 92.6 per cent of patients (25,329 out of 27,342) had their first treatment within the time frame, meaning 2,013 people were forced to wait for longer to receive life-saving care. 

And the proportion of patients beginning cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral — which NHS guidelines should be 85 per cent — fell to its lowest-ever level since records began more than a decade ago.

Just 68 per cent of cancer sufferers start treatment within the window, meaning more than three in 10 were forced to wait for longer.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said a survey of more than 450 leaders across all parts of the health service found nine out of 10 said the situation they now face is ‘unsustainable’ and patient care is being compromised.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We’ve still got thousands of people in hospital with Covid. Hospitalisation rates have started to fall in the last few days, that’s good, but there are still many patients in hospital.

‘Then we’ve got the normal winter pressures, and then you add the huge amount of pent-up demand that has built up during the pandemic.

‘You put those three things together and you’ve got a situation which almost every leader in the health service now says is unsustainable.’

Asked what ‘unsustainable’ means, Mr Taylor said it means the quality of care and patient safety is ‘compromised’, and also means it is very difficult for hospitals to make inroads into the ‘huge’ elective care backlog. 

Mr Taylor said people are turning up at emergency departments with quite advanced diseases, adding there is ‘overwhelming demand’.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said there is ‘no doubt pressure on the health service remains incredibly high’, with staff answering the highest number of 999 calls ever made in a month, the busiest October on record for major A&E departments and the rollout of booster Covid jabs. 

He said: ‘But despite high demand, NHS staff are going above and beyond to see more patients and deliver millions more tests, checks, treatments and operations.

‘Increasing numbers are coming forward for treatment and this is expected to go up, but it remains really important people do not delay seeking help from the NHS if they feel unwell.

‘Anyone needing help should come forward through 111 online so that staff can help you with the best option for your care, and it is as important as ever to get your lifesaving Covid and flu jab, to protect you this winter.’

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said the figures today are ‘confirmation of dangerously lengthy waiting times’ for patients and lay bare the ‘scale of pressure on overwhelmed A&Es’.  

He said: ‘The coming winter weeks are set to be the most challenging in history for the NHS. It’s now urgent Ministers fix the stalling vaccination programme, resolve the immediate crisis in social care and bring forward a long term plan to recruit the health care staff our NHS now desperately needs, which Rishi Sunak has failed to provide despite imposing a punishing tax rise on working people.’ 

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