More than 1.85million people were waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine hospital treatment in England in June — the highest number since records began in 2007.
Data from NHS England shows the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment in England also rose to 50,536. It is the biggest year-long waiting list since February 2009. By contrast, only 1,089 had been waiting 12 months for treatment last June.
Figures released today also revealed the number of patients admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 67 per cent in June compared to a year ago.
A total of 94,354 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, down from 289,203 in June 2019.
Doctors said the NHS is facing ‘worrying times’ in the wake of the pandemic and that ‘performance remains poor’ in hospitals around the country.
And the Labour Party said there are ‘undoubtedly’ people who desperately need medical help but can’t get it as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association, said the data was ‘deeply concerning’. He added they ‘paint a very bleak picture for the future delivery of patient care if urgent intervention is not forthcoming’.
Thousands of non-urgent operations were cancelled during the peak of the crisis, in a desperate attempt to prevent Covid-19 from overwhelming the already struggling health service.
Dr Nick Scriven, of the Society for Acute Medicine which represents hospital doctors, said: ‘These are worrying times for the NHS given the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 in addition to all of the other pre-existing issues such as bed capacity, staffing, funding and social care provision.
‘Performance remains poor and concerning and, with what we know will be a challenging winter ahead, it will take more than a token cash injection announced by the Prime Minister this week to make up for years of neglect.
‘A&E attendance remains much lower than last year yet even with the decreased numbers the four-hour target was not met, showing just how hard hit processes have been in this new era.
‘With four million people waiting to start treatment and 52 per cent waiting up to 18 weeks – far short of the 92 per cent standard – there is significant concern this combination will lead to many more people requiring more urgent treatment down the line when conditions have deteriorated.
‘We are particularly worried by the ongoing crisis in accessing diagnostic tests with the total number of patients waiting six weeks or more from referral for one of the 15 key tests at 540,600 – 47.8 per cent of the total number of patients waiting – which, given the target is one per cent, is scandalous.’
Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, Justin Madders, said: ‘All signals are pointing towards a growing and alarming backlog of clinical need with patients waiting longer for operations and diagnostic tests.
‘Waiting times were dire before the pandemic and we are reaching some worrying new lows.
‘Especially concerning is that the low number of people starting cancer treatment after attending national screening programmes, which indicates that people also aren’t able to access screening or quick treatment.
‘This is incredibly concerning when we know that early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to saving lives.
‘We can’t ignore the fact that there are undoubtedly patients not getting help who may desperately need it. We supported the lockdown to suppress this horrific virus but the far-reaching consequences for wider health outcomes must not be ignored.’
In March, all routine surgery was postponed to make room for Covid-19 patients expected to flood hospitals.
Hospitals in England were told to postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15 April at the latest, for a period of at least three months.
Joint replacements, cataract removals and hernia repairs were all among the elective surgery postponed in order to free up beds.
Health bosses fear the backlog, which could reach 10million by this winter, will take years to clear. Currently, 3.8million people in England are waiting for non-urgent treatment.
And those facing delays for their operation could see their condition worsen while they wait, which could lead to a whole host of other problems.
Cancer waiting times in England have soared to another record high, NHS England statistics released today also revealed.
Only 93.7 per cent of patients in June were treated within a month of being told they needed drugs, surgery or radiotherapy.
It was down slightly on the figure of 93.9 per cent in May, which was the lowest since the monthly performance figures began in 2009.
Separate data showed only 12.9 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer after a screening appointment got treated within the target time of two months.
Screening is mostly done on women and checks for breast, bowel and cervical cancer. The target is to treat 90 per cent of patients within two months if they are diagnosed.
For comparison, the rate was 85.8 per cent last June. It has dropped from the 47.9 per cent figure recorded in May.
NHS England figures also show that a total of 153,134 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in June 2020, down from 194,047 in June 2019 – a drop of 21 per cent.
This is the number of people referred to a cancer consultant by a GP for a first appointment.
Macmillan Cancer Support called for the backlog to be addressed to prevent cancer from becoming the forgotten ‘C’ in the coronavirus pandemic.
Sara Bainbridge, the charity’s head of policy and influence, said the delays could ‘directly impact on many of these people’s chances of survival’.
A&E attendances at hospitals in England were down 30 per cent last month compared with a year ago, NHS England figures show.
A total of almost 1.6million attendances were recorded in July 2020, down from around 2.3million attendances in July 2019.
NHS England, which published the figures, said ‘significantly lower’ attendances compared to the previous year was ‘likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response’.
It suggested that people are still staying away from A&E departments because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Attendances nose-dived during the height of the crisis, plummeting from around 2million before the pandemic to just 916,000 in March with people too scared to visit hospital out of fear they may catch Covid-19.