NHS waiting list hits new record high of 6.1 million as 24,000 patients waiting for two years

Latest NHS performance figures show pressures are ‘not normal’ warns, think tank

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Thursday 10 March 2022 12:53 GMT
<p>Thousands of patients are being forced to wait longer for NHS treatments</p>

Thousands of patients are being forced to wait longer for NHS treatments

The NHS waiting list hit 6.1 million, a new high in January as nearly 24,000 patients were left waiting for more than two years for care.

The figure continues to grow and is up from 6.07m in December 2021.

There were also 311,528 people waiting more than 52 weeks to start treatment, up from 310,813 in the previous month and 2 per cent higher than the number in January 2021.

The Government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025, while all wait of more than two years should be eliminated by July 2022.

On Tuesday the government announced patients waiting the longest for surgeries would be contacted by the end of the month with options to choose a different hospital.

The Royal College of Surgeons said Thursday’s figures suggest that 1,000 people a day will need to be contacted to meet this ambition.

New figures on A&E waits for February showed just 60.8 per cent of patients attending major emergency departments were seen within four hours - the lowest performance on record.

Meanwhile 16,400 patients waited for more than 12 hours in A&E in February, which was slightly down compared January 2022, however more than 16 times higher than February 2021.

Demand on emergency services remained extremely high with 1.8 million attendances in February - an increase of more than 43 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.

The average response time last month for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents - defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries - was eight minutes and 51 seconds, NHS England figures show.

This is up from eight minutes and 31 seconds in January but is below the nine minutes and 20 seconds recorded in October 2021, which was the longest average response time since current records began in August 2017.

On Wednesday NHS England published proposals to scrap its target for 93 per cent of people to been seen within “two weeks” for an urgent cancer referral and replace it with a target for 75 per cent of people to get a diagnosis within 28 days by 2024.

Previous proposals were for the target to be 95 per cent, and charities such as Breast Cancer Now have said they are “deeply concerned” about the watering down of this target.

New data on cancer waits showed just 75 per cent of patients referred urgently for suspected cancer were seen within two weeks, down from 78 per cent in December 2021.

According to the figures in January 2022, 63.8 per cent of people received a cancer diagnosis or told they did not have cancer within 28 days of an urgent referrals. This is down from 70.5 per cent in December.

Commenting on the latest monthly NHS hospital performance data, Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst for think thank The King’s Fund said the pressures on the the NHS were “not normal”.

Labour’s Wes Streeting said the figures were ‘unacceptable’

He said: “NHS staff are working flat out to balance tackling the waiting list backlog with unrelenting pressure across the health system. But whilst recovery plans and initiatives to date, such as new surgical hubs and diagnostic centres, are helpful, these are only part of the solution.

“The government’s promises to offer patients greater choice over where they receive treatment and ambitions to reduce long waits for care will ring hollow if hospitals throughout England continue to flash red.

“Staff shortages remain the rate-limiting factor in the government’s ambition to reduce the backlog. Without a fully-funded workforce plan, key targets will continue to be missed and people will continue wait longer for the care they need.”

On Tuesday in response to questions from The Independent health secretary Sajid Javid, said there would be now new funding for the upcoming NHS workforce plan.

Wes Streeting MP, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, said: “Record numbers of patients are forced to wait unacceptable lengths of time, including 24,000 who have been waiting for treatment since before the pandemic began. Under the Conservatives’ plans, patients will pay more in tax but wait longer for care.”

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “Despite ongoing pressures our hardworking NHS staff delivered 280,000 more tests and checks for patients in January compared to the same time last year, and almost 1.24 million started consultant led treatment, as more people continue to come forward for care who may have been reluctant to seek help during the pandemic.

“Staff across the country are determined to address the Covid-19 backlogs that inevitably built up throughout the pandemic, and while that cannot happen overnight, these figures show that through initiatives like one stop shops, Super Saturdays, and high-intensity theatre lists, we are delivering more care for patients compared to the same time last year.”

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