The NHS waiting list is longer than it has ever been and April was the busiest month on record for A&E departments, figures revealed today.
A total of 4.23million people in England were waiting for routine hospital treatment in March, a rise of 90,000 on the previous month.
The number shows 10 per cent more people were waiting than at the same time last year, which experts have branded a ‘failure’ of the NHS.
A&Es in English hospitals had to deal with a staggering 70,403 visits on an average day in April – the most ever.
And, for the first time since records began, more than one in five cancer patients now have to wait two months or longer to start treatment after a doctor’s referral.
A record 4.23million people are waiting for routine NHS treatment as the referral waiting list is now the longest it has ever been, figures revealed today. The list has risen by around two million people since 2009 (Graph compares figures for March of each year from 2009-2019)
‘With 4.23million people on the waiting list in March 2019, it is clear hospitals have missed the NHS planning guidance target by some way,’ said Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons.
‘It further emphasises the struggle NHS hospitals have faced in tackling the backlog that built up in the first few months of last year.’
The waiting list figures cover patients who need scheduled hospital treatment, usually operations, but are not emergency cases or inpatients.
Some 92 per cent of these patients should be seen within 18 weeks, but in March this was only 86.7 per cent and the 18-week target hasn’t been met since February 2016.
Plans published last year told hospitals their waiting list must be no longer in March 2019 than in March 2018 – but nationally it rose by 10 per cent.
The Royal College of Surgeons said hospitals had ‘failed to meet a key target’ and Professor Alderson added: ‘There are still far too many waiting longer than the Government’s 18-week target.
‘Waiting for surgery can be a very anxious time for patients and their families, especially when their condition might prevent them from working or looking after themselves.
‘There is also the risk that they become more ill while they wait. It’s hard to see the waiting list decreasing in any significant way without a clear plan.’
Despite rising numbers, the proportion of patients being treated on time was higher than in February and fewer people had been waiting more than a year than at any time since August 2016.
A&E departments in April were busier on a day-by-day basis than they have ever been, with 2,112,102 visits over the 30-day month.
Only months with more days – March 2019 and May and July 2019 – have had to deal with more visits.
A&E performance in April was also worse than most of the autumn and winter months, with just 85.1 per cent of people being seen within four hours.
And people who needed admitting to hospital faced long waits – more than 66,000 waited four hours or more for a bed.
‘People who are so sick that they need to be admitted to hospital from A&E need a bed, and nursing and medical care, urgently,’ said the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, Patricia Marquis.
‘Yet we learn from today’s figures that last month, almost 70,000 patients had to wait more than four hours on trolleys or chairs until a bed could be found, an increase of almost 40 per cent on this time last year.
‘Most shockingly, over 400 of those had to wait more than 12 hours, up 24 per cent on last year.
‘Trusts are supposed never to allow this to happen, and nursing staff find it extremely difficult and distressing to try to provide care for patients in these circumstances.’
Cancer statistics showed last year was the worst on record for the proportion of patients getting treatment within two months of being referred by their doctor.
Just 79.1 per cent of the 162,966 diagnosed cancer patients last year started therapy within eight weeks.
This means more than one in five people now face an agonising wait longer than that after being told they may have cancer.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s Dr Moira Fraser-Pearce said: ‘Behind these figures are real people who tell us how delays cause real anxiety for them and their loved ones at a time when they are already trying to deal with the many worries cancer is throwing their way.
‘Today’s results show things are not getting much better and are symptomatic of an overstretched cancer workforce.’
Ellen Lang, a service manager on the charity’s support phone line, added: ‘Every day we receive phone calls from people who have been diagnosed with cancer and are anxiously waiting for their treatment to start.
‘Receiving a cancer diagnosis can turn life upside down in a single moment and any delays to treatment can add to this.’
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Despite being under continued pressure, NHS staff have once again successfully treated more patients within four hours in A&E over the past month, and have also significantly cut the number of long waits for routine care.
‘Recent independent figures also show breast cancer outcomes have now overtaken those in France and Germany, and as funding and staff become available over the coming five years, the NHS Long Term Plan will bring about further measurable improvements.’