Waiting list hits new record high amid warning numbers will rise further

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Waiting list figures have hit a new record high in England, and the Health Secretary has warned the numbers will keep rising as people who stayed away during the worst of the pandemic return for treatment.

Some 5.45 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of June, according to the latest figures from NHS England – the highest number since records began in August 2007.

Sajid Javid said he thinks waiting lists will rise further due to the “huge increase in demand”, and said the Government will look at “what more we need to do” for the health service.

He said: “Everyone understands why hospital waiting lists have risen. The NHS has rightly focused on Covid-19 in this horrible pandemic and that has meant, sadly, that waiting lists have risen.”

(PA Graphics)

“As they do, I think waiting lists will rise because there will be a huge increase in demand,” he said.

He added that the Government will look at “what more we need to do” for the health service.

He said: “Already this year there’s an extra £29 billion gone into the NHS and social care, and we will certainly be looking again at what more we need to do.”

Modelling from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) at the weekend warned the NHS waiting list in England could rise to 14 million by autumn next year.

In signs of progress, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for care has dropped by almost 25,000, according to the latest figures.

The number having to wait more than a year to start treatment was 304,803 in June – down from 336,733 the previous month but around six times the number from a year earlier.

Urgent cancer referrals are up 50% on the same time last year, with 230,110 having been made by GPs in England in June.

The equivalent figure for June 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 194,047.

The equivalent number for June last year was 539,433.

NHS England said the health service is experiencing one of its busiest summers ever.

A&E attendances at hospitals in England last month were 36% higher than a year ago, although this is a reflection of lower than usual numbers for July 2020, which were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A total of 2.16 million attendances were recorded last month, up from 1.59 million in July 2020.

Emergency admissions to A&E departments at hospitals in England rose from 473,226 in July 2020 to 532,677 in July this year.

Meanwhile NHS England said the ambulance service answered its highest number of 999 calls ever last month – more than one million – and had its highest ever number of callouts for life-threatening conditions.

There were 82,000 such calls last month, 8,000 more than the previous record high in June, NHS England said.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said: “NHS staff have made effective use of the additional resources made available to us to recover services which were inevitably disrupted during the pandemic, and we are continuing to tackle the Covid backlog.

“This has come as services have seen some of the highest ever number of patients coming forward for care during the summer months, all at the same time as delivering the biggest and most precise vaccine rollout in our history.”

He said: “Trust leaders are doing all they can to get through care backlogs as quickly as they can, prioritising those patients who need to be seen most urgently. But they need to be resourced properly so they can meet the myriad challenges ahead.

“That’s why it’s so important the NHS gets the immediate funding it needs for the second half of the financial year and in the upcoming comprehensive spending review.”

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, called for “significant investment in a more sustainable system, adapted to a country where the virus remains endemic” to avoid ever-growing waiting lists.

The latest figures were described as a “stark reminder of the huge pressure health and care staff are still under” by Royal College of Nursing England director Patricia Marquis, while Dr Nick Scriven, of the Society for Acute Medicine, said staff are “pretty much running on empty after 20 months of unrelenting pressure culminating now in what is really unprecedented demand at this time of year”.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation charity, said the latest data “highlights the difficult juggling act the NHS faces in meeting emergency pressures, restoring services and addressing the backlog of care while Covid-19 cases still remain high”.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, said: “Ministers must deliver a credible long-term rescue plan for our NHS and social care sector, guaranteeing the staffing and modern technology that are so desperately needed to bring down waiting times, avoid a winter crisis and provide the exceptional care patients deserve.”

A joint report by NHS Providers and the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) has said ambulance trusts are “uniquely placed to play a pivotal role” in managing the long-term impact of the pandemic, but that the sector needs “appropriate support, recognition and investment”.

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