NHS England faces enormous backlog as waiting lists hit record high of 5.1 million
The latest NHS England statistics for patients waiting to start treatment show that 385,490 patients have been waiting for one year or more.
Consultant-led Referral To Treatment (RTT) figures are published monthly by NHS England, which monitor the length of time from referral through to elective treatment. The latest statistics cover the period up until April 2021.
According to the latest data, just under 400,000 people that have waited more than one year for treatment start. This could be for rheumatology, orthopaedic services, general surgery, cardiology, paediatric services, mental health and many other areas.
However, as seen in the Health Service Journal (HSJ), the number of waiting upwards of 52 weeks for treatment to begin fell substantially from 436,127 in March to 385,490 in April.
Overall, there are over five million people waiting for treatment to start, which represents a record high since records began in 2007 for NHS England.
Of this number, 3.3 million people are still within NHS England’s waiting time target of 18 weeks for treatment to start. This equates to nearly two-thirds still within the 18-week timeframe.
Responding to the publication of NHS England’s monthly performance statistics, Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the pressure the NHS faces as it works to tackle the enormous backlog in routine hospital care caused by the pandemic.
“Nearly 3,000 people have now been waiting more than two years for a procedure which the NHS constitution promises should be performed within 18 weeks, and nearly 400,000 have been waiting over a year. The total number of people waiting for routine hospital care – 5.1 million – is now greater than at any time since records began in 2007.
“Waits of this magnitude are not acceptable to anyone and we know that the NHS and government are working hard to find a solution. The NHS needs to increase levels of activity but this will be extremely difficult with significant workforce shortages, post-pandemic staff burnt-out and ongoing constraints on capacity due to COVID-19, including social distancing.
“The NHS urgently needs additional resources but importantly, local services also need the freedom and support to trial and evaluate innovative new approaches to tackling the backlog and share learning across the country. Making incremental improvements to business as usual, while important, will not be enough to address a challenge of this scale.”
However, NHS England has said that the number of patients waiting 52 weeks or more for treatment to begin has fallen by around 50,000 since March, which shows that the health service is “rebounding sharply”.
Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director for NHS England, commented: “Despite the extensive disruption to care caused by the pandemic, it’s encouraging that today’s figures show routine operations, cancer and mental health care have now all rebounded sharply.
“Average waits for non-urgent care have fallen to 11 weeks, and the number of people waiting over 52 weeks fell by more than 50,000 in April. Mental health services are back at pre-pandemic levels, and treatment rates for cancer are also now back to usual levels, with nearly nineteen out of twenty people starting treatment for the disease within one month.”