The NHS waiting list in England has spiraled to a new record, as medics warn crisis in the hospitals and emergency care will only get worse as the country moves into winter.
Official figures show 6.8million patients were in the queue, often in pain, for routine hospital treatment in July — the equivalent of one in eight people.
Nearly 380,000 have been waiting for over one year, while more than 2,800 have been stuck in the backlog for at least two years — a list that was supposed to be cleared by July.
Separate emergency unit data shows that three in 10 A&E attendees were forced to wait longer than four hours in August, while nearly one thousand per day waited for 12 hours.
While ambulance response times recovered slightly last month, the time taken for paramedics to arrive on the scene was still well above targets.
The Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) warned there is no ‘quick fix’ and urged health chiefs to be frank about ‘just how awful this winter is going to be’ — with the public unable to bank on ‘high quality and timely care’.
The NHS blames pressures in urgent care, the highest summer demand ever and problems in social care for the crisis. It pointed to its tests and checks waiting list, which has fallen for three months in a row.
NHS England figures show 6.8million patients were in the queue for routine hospital treatment in July, equivalent to one in eight people. Nearly 380,000 have been waiting for over one year
Emergency unit data shows that three in 10 Britons were forced to wait longer than four hours in A&E departments in August, while nearly one thousand per day waited for 12 hours
WHAT DO THE LATEST NHS PERFORMANCE FIGURES SHOW?
The overall waiting list jumped to 6.84million in July. This is up from 6.73million in June and is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
There were 2,885 people waiting more than two years to start treatment at the end of July, down from 3,861 in June but still higher than April 2021, when the figure started to be recorded.
The number of people waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment was 377,689, up from 355,774 the previous month.
Some 28,756 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in August. The figure is down from 29,317 in July but is the second highest for any month since record began in 2010.
A total of 130,528 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in August, down slightly from the all-time high of 136,298 in March.
Just 71.4 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, the second-worst ever performance. NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.
In August, the average category one response time – calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and eight seconds. The target time is seven minutes.
Ambulances took an average of 42 minutes and 44 seconds to respond to category two calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than twice as long as the 18 minute target.
Response times for category three calls – such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes – averaged two hours, 16 minutes and 23 seconds. Ambulances are supposed to arrive to these calls within two hours.
Some 424,605 patients were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in July, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.
The number of people on the queue for elective procedures, such as kip and knee replacements, jumped by 113,000 (1.7 per cent) in July, from a previous record of 6.7million in June.
Six in 10 (4.1million) have been waiting for four months.
Meanwhile, 377,689 have been seeking treatment for at least one year — up by 21,915 in a month — and 2,885 have been waiting for two years — down by 967 compared to June.
The NHS insists that all but 170 of the 24-month waiters have either ‘opted to defer treatment’ — by declining an an earlier appointment at another hospital — or are ‘complex cases’ that would be unsafe to move to another hospital.
The health service had a target of eliminating two-year waits by July, apart from those who choose to delay treatment and complex cases.
Its next deadline is to clear the number of people waiting more than 18 months by April 2023. One-year waits aren’t expected to be scrapped until March 2025.
However, number of patients waiting for tests and checks has fallen for three months in a row and stands at 1.5million.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said the data shows that the health service is making ‘significant progress’ on cutting backlogs.
He noted that there were ‘improvements in A&E performance and ambulance response times’ despite a soaring calls and challenges in social care.
‘Staff are already looking ahead for a winter that is likely to be as challenging with more 999 and 111 call handlers being recruited alongside the equivalent of 7,000 more beds being made available,’ Professor Powis added.
Separate figures for A&E show that 1.9million people sought emergency care in August — down by 175,000 compared to July.
Some 505,946 people (28.6 per cent) were forced to wait more than four hours — a slight improvement on last month when 559,183 (29 per cent) faced a four-plus hour queue.
However, almost all of A&E attendees (95 per cent) are supposed to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours. But his target has not been met nationally since 2015.
Fewer patients waited 12 hours or more — 28,756 in August, compared to 29,317 in July. However, the figure is the second highest since records began in 2010 and three times more than the total number of patients who faced 12 hour waits in 2019. Before the pandemic hit, the monthly record stood at 2,356.
A&E waits are thought to be much worse than the figures suggest. The 12-hour period covers the time between medics deciding a patient needs to be admitted and when they actually are given a bed.
But patients usually arrive hours before their condition is deemed serious enough for further treatment.
Dr Susan Crossland, former head of SAM, said: ‘There remains no quick fix for the problems in the NHS and we need to prepare for an honest discussion about just how awful this winter is going to be.
‘We urge the new Health Secretary to deliver action not soundbites and set out an immediate and comprehensive plan to increase workforce and capacity.
‘This must be her priority with autumn and winter around the corner and a likely further wave of Covid combined with the flu season and the threat of the implications of fuel poverty hanging over us.
‘The reality at present is that the public can’t be assured of high quality and timely care and, although they can be assured all frontline staff will continue to do their best, that is simply not enough.’
The NHS blames its crisis partly on Covid still putting pressure on the health service, which treated 8,479 infected patients per day this summer — more than the 3,313 in 2021 and 2,032 in 2020.
But a only third of the admissions this summer were admitted because they were unwell with the virus. The other two-thirds were primarily admitted for another ailment but happened to test positive.
And it currently has more than 130,000 vacancies — almost 10 per cent of its planned workforce — with medics warning patient care is suffering as a result.
The health services also said a shortage of beds and social care staff are piling on the pressure — with the latter often take over caring for patients once they are discharged.
The lack of beds has seen ambulances stuck in queues for 20 hours outside of hospitals this summer, as emergency medics scramble to find beds for patients. This is had a knock-on effect on response times.
Ambulance performance statistics for August show that 999 callers waited for less time compared to July. However, patients still faced waits well above NHS targets.
In August, the average category one response time — calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries — was nine minutes and eight seconds. The target time is seven minutes.
Ambulances took an average of 42 minutes and 44 seconds to respond to category two calls , such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than twice as long as the 18 minute target.
Response times for category three calls — such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes — averaged two hours, 16 minutes and 23 seconds. Ambulances are supposed to arrive within two hours.
Ambulance response times recovered slightly in August but the time taken for paramedics to arrive on the scene was still well above targets
Cancer patients starting treatment within two months of an urgent referral increased from 59.9 per cent in June to 61.6 per cent in July. But the figure is below the 85 per cent standard, which hasn’t been hit since 2014
Unions accuse Health Secretary of being ‘out of touch’ after she claimed NHS staffing levels are at record levels
Angry health unions today tore into Therese Coffey, accusing her of being ‘completely out of touch’ and warning she was on a ‘collision course’ with medics on an eventful first day as Health Secretary.
Tasked with fixing the ailing NHS by close friend and new Prime Minister Liz Truss, Dr Coffey has already outlined her four priorities in bringing the crippled health service back to its feet.
The 50-year-old’s ‘ABCD’ list revolves around sorting deadly ambulance delays, dealing with the record pandemic-induced backlogs for treatment, easing monumental pressures in the social care sector and ensuring patients can see their GP and dentist whenever they want.
But Dr Coffey made no mention of the workforce crisis, which commentators say is central to the health service’s grisly performance.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 today, Dr Coffey, who has a PhD in chemistry, even bragged that there are ‘more people working in the NHS than ever before’.
Professor Philip Banfield, chair of the British Medical Association’s council, called her comments ‘bizarre’.
He said: ‘For patients waiting for hours on trolleys and in ambulances or struggling to get an appointment at their practice, or healthcare workers battling to provide care amid rota gaps and workforce shortages, these comments will seem completely out of touch.’
The Royal College of Nursing, which wants its 300,000 members to strike over pay, said Dr Coffey ‘should start at the other end of the alphabet, with W for workforce’.
Critics also said Ms Truss’s controversial plan to divert billions away from the NHS and pump it straight into social care would be ‘completely disastrous for patients’. Dr Coffey confirmed the new PM still planned to press ahead with the move during an action-packed media round this morning, which saw one interview interrupted by her 8am mobile phone alarm of a Dr Dre hit.
Trolls also poked fun at Dr Coffey’s weight and criticised her for smoking, as a famous picture of her clutching a glass of fizz with a cigar in her mouth did the rounds on social media. Supporters, however, pointed to dozens of male MPs who were ‘lionised’ for doing the same thing.
She was also forced to state that her personal anti abortion views, which critics slammed as ‘deeply concerning’, wouldn’t influence her decisions while she is in charge of the Department of Health.
Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said the latest NHS figures should ring alarm bells’ for the new Prime Minister and Health Secretary.
He urged ministers to draw up a long-term workforce strategy that is backed by ‘sustained Government investment’.
Mr Gardner also hit out at the PM’s plans to shift billions of pounds of taxpayer cash earmarked for the health service to social care.
He said: ‘Pressures exist across the whole health and care system. The need for investment and to address workforce issues are just as urgent in social care. But diverting money from one to the other would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.’
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said the NHS is in ‘critical condition’ and the waits faced by patients are ‘now worse than they were in previous winters’.
He said the crisis has been ‘years in the making’, with the pandemic only exacerbating staff shortages, social care problems and inadequate investment — with analysis showing the waiting list would stand at 5million even without the Covid crisis.
Mr Edwards added: ‘Exactly how to turn this around as we go into winter will not be an easy task but a relentless focus on the workforce, social care and hospital buildings are essential.
‘We are still waiting for detail from the new Prime Minister on how they plan to deliver for the NHS, but it has been evident for some time that more of the same isn’t going to cut it.’
Meanwhile, cancer performance recovered slightly from dismal figures in June.
Some 238,771 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in July. The figure is up from 229,093 in June and is the highest number for that month since records began in 2009.
However, just 77.8 per cent of patients in England saw a specialist within two weeks — one of the lowest figures ever recorded and well below the 93 per cent target. It means 52,957 waited more than 14 days to see a cancer doctor following a referral from their GP.
Meanwhile, 65,966 patients were left in limbo over their cancer status for more than four weeks. Some 71.1 per cent of patients with cancer symptoms were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days — up from 70.4 per cent in June but lower than the 75 per cent target, which has never been met.
Cancer patients starting treatment within two months of an urgent referral increased from 59.9 per cent in June to 61.6 per cent in July. But the figure is below the 85 per cent standard, which hasn’t been hit since 2014, and means 5,438 waited longer for cancer care than they should have.
The proportion of cancer patients undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or radiology within two months after seeing a consultant fell to 74.7 per cent in July — the worst figure ever recorded.
Minesh Patel, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said tens of thousands of people waited ‘far too long for diagnosis or vital treatment’ and the charity is inundated with people ‘worried about the impact of these delays on their prognosis and quality of care’.
He called on Ms Truss and new Health Secretary Therese Coffey to ‘ensure cancer is a priority’ by training and retaining cancer doctors, so patients ‘get the timely and quality care they need and deserve’.
Professor Pat Price, an oncologist at Imperial College London and chair of Radiotherapy UK, a charity demanding action to tackle the ever-growing backlog, said it is ‘shocking’ that cancer is not included in Dr Coffey’s ‘ABCD’ list of priorites.
The newly-appointed Health Secretary, who is also deputy PM, this week promised to place ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists at the top of her agenda — leaving off cancer care. The plan has also come under fire for failing to address the shortage of nurses and the overall workforce crisis.
Professor Price said: ‘This data shows a worsening cancer crisis that must demand full and immediate attention of the new Health Secretary.
‘Even with less patients coming through, the waiting times continue to be staggeringly high, and getting worse. We must accept that this is a crisis and in doing so that a radical new approach is needed.
‘Some of our best and most cost-effective solutions, in areas like radiotherapy, have so far been systematically overlooked and underfunded.
She added: ‘This national health emergency will only worsen without immediate political action.’
Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said the data shows that the Government ‘has broken its promise to eliminate two year waits by July’, while more patients are waiting for treatment than ever before.
He said: ‘The basic promise that an ambulance will arrive in time when you need one has been broken.
‘There are still thousands of patients who have been waiting more than two years for care, another example of the Conservatives overpromising and underdelivering.
‘Now we have a new Prime Minister in Liz Truss who has proposed charging patients to see a doctor and cutting the NHS budget.’
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health, said long-term underinvestment in the NHS has led to ‘this horrifying and frankly dangerous situation’.
She said: ‘People across the country are waiting in uncertainty and agony for treatment, forced to put their lives on hold for months or even years.
‘In the worst cases, many won’t make it to the top of the list before their conditions have irreversible consequences. The Conservatives should be ashamed they’ve allowed this to happen on their watch.’