The number of patients waiting too long for routine operations is at its highest level in almost a decade, NHS figures reveal.
More than 400,000 patients have been waiting at least 18 weeks for procedures including hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.
This is the highest number since September 2008 and prompting experts to warn that hospitals were going backwards.
Under the NHS Constitution, its rulebook, patients have a right to have an operation or procedure within 18 weeks of being referred by their consultant.
But figures for August show that 1 in 10 patients were waiting longer – only 89.4 per cent were treated within this 18 week target.
More than 400,000 patients have been waiting at least 18 weeks for procedures including hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery, NHS figures show
Earlier this year the head of the NHS Simon Stevens warned that waiting times would go up to enable the health service to focus its attention on cancer care and GP services.
‘Waving the white flag’
Leading surgeons accused him of ‘waving the white flag’ and said the health service would return to the days of ‘unacceptably long waits.’
A total of 409,342 people had waited longer than 18 weeks in August 2017, the highest number since September 2008 when 470,983 waited this long.
Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘Our concern is now that waiting times are starting to go in the wrong direction.
‘With growing demand on the system and difficulties in moving patients from hospital to social or residential care, it’s easy to see how quickly things could deteriorate.
‘We cannot let all the good work we’ve done be so easily undone.
‘As things stand, the NHS is not well prepared going into this winter to prevent mass cancellations of operations.’
Waiting times on the rise
AUSSIE FLU COULD IMPACT SURGERY…
Concerned health chiefs are crossing their fingers that the NHS doesn’t get bombarded with the major Aussie flu outbreak that is expected this winter.
Routine operations could ‘cease for several months’ if the over-stretched health service falls victim to the bug that is on its way to the UK after blighting Australia, experts warn.
They have already stressed that the H3N2 strain could pose the same threat to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968, which killed one million people.
And the under-prepared NHS will ‘break’ if Aussie flu does strike the nation as viciously as expected, the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) claims. The number of people waiting for surgery on the NHS is already at its highest level in a decade.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of SAM, which represents doctors who look after patients admitted as an emergency who do not need surgery, said a bad flu season could ‘overwhelm’ the NHS.
A&E waiting times are also on the rise and only 89.7 per cent of patients were treated within the target four hours in September.
This is up from 90.6 per cent in September 2016 and the figure is likely to worsen over the winter months.
Hospitals and A&E units were extremely busy last winter and at one point the Red Cross charity warned of a humanitarian crisis.
Experts are worried that this winter will be even worse and they are particularly concerned about a severe flu virus on its way from the Southern Hemisphere.
Ruth Thorlby, assistant director of policy at the Health Foundation think-tank, said the statistics ‘do not bode well for patients or staff.’
Continued pressure on the NHS
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association said: ‘These figures point to an NHS under continued pressure.
‘Staff across the NHS are gearing up again for the busy winter period and will remember the stress of enduring the worst winter on record last year, with patients facing unacceptable delays for care.
‘We don’t want to see a repeat of that, this year, which is why it’s vital the entire health system is supported and working well – from our GP surgeries, to hospital wards, to social care.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘While it’s good to see that A&E 4-hour performance year to date has stabilised at 90.2 per cent – ending the annual declines seen in recent years – the whole of the NHS is mobilising for what could be a tough winter.
‘Important new action on flu, on delayed hospital discharges, and on more A&E consultants is all being announced today.’