The NHS waiting list has hit another record high with almost 4.4million people now waiting for routine treatment.
For a third month running the figure has risen to a new high, increasing by a quarter of a million people between February and May alone.
Other statistics also revealed by NHS England today show the number of A&E patients stuck on trolleys waiting for an inpatient bed has increased by 70 per cent in a year.
Health leaders said the next Prime Minister must tackle the problem or risk ‘chaos’ in the health service.
With waiting times at A&E departments worse in May and June this year than in the run-up to Christmas, it has been feared the NHS is now in a ‘year-round-crisis’.
The Royal College of Nursing Director in England, Patricia Marquis, said the total 4.39million waiting list did not come as a shock.
‘This is no surprise when NHS England themselves attribute the delays highlighted in the monthly waiting time statistics to “continued staffing and bed pressures”,’ she said.
‘A new Prime Minister will have no alternative but to get a grip on this situation.
‘Today’s statistics show that whether it’s a hospital treatment, a cancer diagnosis or care or a simple GP appointment, patients are having to wait longer and longer.
‘With one in ten nursing posts currently vacant in England alone, the situation will not change unless the NHS manages to recruit more staff.’
The waiting times refer to patients who are waiting for routine but important operations such as joint replacements.
Those included in the 4.39million on the waiting list are the ones who have been referred for surgery by a specialist but have not yet had the procedure.
May’s figure was around 90,000 higher than April’s. The rise, from 4.3million to 4.39million people.
In comparison, a year ago there were 4.09million people on the list, and two years earlier it was 3.81million.
More than 1,000 patients have been waiting more than a year for their treatment – however this figure has slowly been decreasing over the past few months.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘The system remains under significant strain and one wonders how many more times performance targets have to be missed for government and NHS leaders to accept they have failed to meet the challenges presented to them over recent years.
‘This is meant to be the time when services are least stretched and staff have an opportunity to draw breath but the numbers are staggering.’
A&E departments are also feeling the strain as backed-up hospital beds make it harder for them to find places to put new patients, so leave them waiting on temporary beds known as ‘trolleys’.
Official figures show there were a total of 119,320 trolley waits of more than four hours in May and June this year.
The figure is almost treble that from four years ago.
The deteriorating performance has been partly blamed on staff turning down extra shifts in fear of being hit with a huge tax bill.
New rules mean GPs and consultants are among those hit with tax rates of up to 90 per cent on their total pension value if they earn more than £110,000 a year.
Yesterday the British Medical Association wrote to Conservative leadership candidates Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson calling for a reform on the current pension taxation immediately.
They warned they are ‘deeply concerned about significant reductions in capacity within the NHS’ citing the ‘worrying evidence’ of its impact on the health service NHS.