More than 111,000 people have now been waiting for routine NHS treatment for over a year, new figures show, revealing that hospital capacity is down 43 per cent.
Rising sharply between July and August, the tally of those waiting more than a year for procedures such as cataracts and hip and knee surgery has now exceeded 100,000 for the first time since records began.
The new data prompted calls for NHS officials ‘to be honest with patients and the public’ about the true state of services more than six months after lockdown. One leading think tank said the recovery of the health service since it was drastically re-geared to cope with Covid had ‘hit a wall’.
Routine treatments in August, the latest month for which there are figures, were down 43 per cent compared to the same month in 2019, meaning only 155,789 patients were admitted.
Meanwhile the latest A&E figures show that there were 20 per cent fewer attendances – 1.7 million – in September compared to 12 months previously, and nine per cent emergency admissions to hospital, a total of 479,800.
The data further shows that 169,660 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in August 2020, down from 200,317 in August 2019, a fall of 15 per cent. This compares with a year-on-year drop of 19 per cent in July, 21 per cent in June and 47 per cent in May. Urgent breast cancer referrals were down from 13,220 in August 2019 to 9,498 in August 2020, a fall of 28 per cent.
The 43 per cent drop in routine treatments is a slight improvement on July, when the year-on-year drop in activity was 55 per cent.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the data showed there are “still thousands fewer people being tested or treated for cancer than the same time last year, meaning that the backlog of patients continues to grow”.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, wrote to hospitals on April 29 instructing them to restore urgent non-Covid services as soon as possible, and again on July 31 to order the restoration of all non-Covid services.
In March the number of patients who had waited more than 52 weeks for their treatment to be completed stood at 3,097. By June this had risen to 50,536. Despite the order to restart all services, the tally rose to 83,203 in July and then to 111,026 in August.
This is the highest since modern records began more than a decade ago.
Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “NHS staff are working hard to restore services and find innovative new ways to care for patients, but as these figures show, there is a mountain to climb. It now seems unlikely that the highly ambitious targets for autumn will be met, and it is important to be honest with patients and the public.
“Covid-19 hospital admissions are rising in some parts of the country, thousands of people need support for long lasting Covid symptoms, and over 4 million people are stuck on waiting lists after some treatments were delayed during the first wave of the virus.”
Nuffield Trust Chief Economist John Appleby said: “Despite an ambitious drive to get back to seeing the close to the usual number of patients, today’s figures appear to show the NHS recovery hitting a wall.”
An NHS spokesperson, said: “Hospitals are carrying out more than a million routine appointments and operations per week, with around three times the levels of elective patients admitted to hospital than in April, as they continue to make progress on getting services back to pre-Covid levels including scanning services which are delivering millions of urgent checks and tests.
“It is obviously vital for patients that this progress continues, and isn’t jeopardised by a second wave of covid infections spiralling out of control.”