NHS England sees record 2.15 million patients waiting for hospital treatment

More than two million people are having to wait more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment in England, according to NHS data.

The total number of patients waiting for treatment increased to 2.15m in July, three times more than the 620,454 waiting at the same point in 2019.

It is the highest number for any month since records began in August 2007.

NHS England data also showed 83,203 people are waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment – the highest number seen for any month since November 2008.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said it is “disappointing” to see waiting lists continuing to mount up, and those who have waited many months or years “cannot afford to wait until next spring”.

He said: “For those unable to return to work due to their condition, this is not only a health issue, but an economic one too.

“We urgently need to build up our hospital reserves if we are to see this winter through. Flu, together with continuing local COVID-19 outbreaks, must not bring surgery to a standstill again, or thousands more will suffer.”

According to Gbemi Babalola, a senior analyst at The King’s Fund, these wait times are a “timely reality check on the challenges facing NHS services” as they continue to deal with a backlog of patients due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Babalola said that while NHS staff are working towards restoring capacity “there needs to be honesty about what is achievable”.

She added that as winter nears “long waits for routine diagnostic and surgical procedures are likely here to stay”.

The number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England fell to 142,818 in July – more than half the figure the previous year.

However, the fall is not as steep as earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. The year-on-year decrease in June was 67%, and 82% in May.

In another decrease attributed to the coronavirus outbreak, A&E visits in England fell 33% in June and 30% in July.

There were 1.7 million visits in August 2020, down 19% on the previous year.

Emergency admissions to A&E departments at hospitals also fell by 10%, from 529,231 in August 2019 to 473,903 in August 2020.

Urgent cancer referrals made by GPs have also fallen by 19%, from 221,805 in July 2019 to 179,503 in the same month this year.

This year-on-year drop was 21% in June and 47% in May.

Urgent breast cancer referrals also decreased by 34%, from 15,824 in July 2019 to 10,441 in July 2020.

However, NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said “pleasingly, cancer radiotherapy treatments are now fully back to their pre-COVID levels”.

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