Nearly 18million fewer NHS appointments were carried out last year, according to official data that lays bare the true toll of the Covid-induced backlog on the health service.
Before the pandemic struck, around 96million outpatient appointments such as CT scans, X-rays and MRIs were carried out every year.
But the total figure fell by 18 per cent in 2020/21, the health service’s own statistics revealed today.
Hospitals cancelled 12.6million procedures, which was the highest toll since health chiefs began collecting the data a decade ago.
NHS Digital, which compiled the annual report, admitted the trend was down to ‘the impact of the coronavirus pandemic’.
Disruptions to healthcare has already seen waiting lists for routine surgeries including hip and knee replacements spiral to a record high of 5.6million.
This is expected to climb even further as millions of people who delayed or were unable to seek care during the pandemic come forward.
Operations, scans and appointments were cancelled as the NHS focused on treating Covid patients and many people were scared to attend hospital for fear of catching the virus.
NHS Digital’s figures come after health bosses pleaded for a further £1.5billion in funding, just a fortnight after No10 pushed through a £12billion tax raid to prop up the NHS.
Graph shows: Outpatient appointments attended by patients dropped more than 18 per cent to 78.4million in the year 2020 to 2021, down from 96.4million the year before
Graph shows: The number of outpatient appointments and attendances in England from April 2019 to March 2021
Graph shows: 12.6million appointments were cancelled by hospitals (dark blue line) — the highest on record
London had the highest outpatient activity with both the highest number of appointments (21.2million or 20.8 per cent) and attendances (15.3million or 19.5 per cent)
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers — which represents trusts across the country — today asked for extra funds to fix crumbling hospitals.
She said the money would bring ‘long neglected parts of the NHS estate into the 21st Century’, with cash used to fix leaky roofs, broken boilers and faulty air conditioning units in operating theatres.
Ms Cordery insisted the separate funds are necessary because of red tape meaning the tax raid — which won’t hit millions of taxpayers until April — cannot be spent on key maintenance and infrastructure repairs.
The NHS data showed the number of outpatient appointments in England dropped off as soon as Britain was plunged into its first lockdown.
In the year 2019 to 2020 — which only included a week of No10’s first shutdown — there were around 2.5million planned outpatient appointments per week with 2million attendances.
By early April 2020 — during the first lockdown — weekly appointments (1.3million) fell by 48 per cent and weekly attendances (826,000) fell by over 60 per cent compared to these previous averages.
Appointments dipped to just over 1million per week at the end of December, when Boris Johnson introduced Tier Four restrictions across swathes of England.
But the fall-off in the second lockdown back in November was less dramatic.
NHS digital said: ‘Activity levels recovered during 2020-21 but remained below pre-Covid averages at the end of the period.’
The damning data comes after the Prime Minister announced the National Insurance hike at the start of the month in order to help clear the NHS backlog, saying it would help the health service get ‘back on its feet’.
The health service will receive the vast majority of the £36billion raised by the 1.25 per cent National Insurance hike over the next three years, with social care receiving a £5.3billion slice.
It will see people earning £50,000 a year having to pay an extra £500 annually in National Insurance.
Critics warned pouring the money into the NHS — which also given an emergency £60billion pot on top of its annual slice of £150billion to fight Covid last year — would lead to even more demands for money in the future.
NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation immediately told the Prime Minister that the extra funds were not enough at the time.
But pleading for more funds today, Ms Cordery gave no indication of how the money would raised.
She told Sky News the £1.5billion would be spent on fixing holes in roofs as well as making mental health wards safer.
Ms Cordery: ‘They’re really critical to both the safe and effective running of hospital services.
‘You know if the air conditioning doesn’t work in an operating theatre then you can’t use that operating theatre. So that’s out of action and we know the challenges that that brings.
‘This isn’t about the running costs, this is about the physical infrastructure and it’s also about digital transformation.
She added: ‘How do we bring NHS services fully into the 21st century and replace outdated technology.
‘We need £1.5billion a year extra on top of the £8.5billion capital budget that is already there.
‘It’s a substantial amount but it’s a really important figure because it enables us to really work at full pelt to recover that backlog of routine operations and it enables them to modernise their service and provide really safe environments.’
Asked how people could trust the extra funding would be necessary or spent wisely, Ms Saffron said the NHS is currently hamstrung by rules that dictate what it can spend on.
Hospitals and other care providers are given two separate budgets — one for day-to-day running costs and another for maintenance and long-term spending.
Current Treasury rules mean hospitals can’t use any of the funds from the impending tax hike for maintenance work, she claimed.
And caps on overall NHS spending also mean individual hospitals can’t use funds available in their own budgets if it means the health service as a whole exceeds the agreed limits.
Health chiefs are demanding further investment, despite the spike in funds the NHS will receive because of Boris Johnson’s £12billion National Insurance tax raid to pay for health and social care. Graph shows: The increases to core funding and additional Covid funding in the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget
Graphs show: The increase in yearly national insurance payments in each pay bracket because of the Government’s recent
She said: ‘There are some rules that need to be changed that would mean money that is already there could be used.
‘I think what I would say to the Treasury is we know that we need the opportunity to use the investment that is already made and new investment as effectively and efficiently as possible.
‘Because at the moment without those changes we’re actually holding the NHS back in terms of what it can do with the funds it has already got, not just new funds that are coming.
‘And I that’s really worth remembering.’
Labour’s research in 2019, before the pandemic hit, showed at least 76 NHS hospital trusts experienced safety incidents over the previous year because their buildings were outdated or falling apart.
In one gruesome example, sewage spurted out of a drain and landed on a patient’s bed, while another had human faeces seeping up through the floor.
Broken lifts have trapped staff and left patients lingering in corridors, and ceilings have caved in and only narrowly missed patients lying in beds below.
It comes after Mr Johnson announced his new £36 billion social care fund as a way to help the NHS recover from the coronavirus pandemic and reform the adult social care system so people no longer face catastrophic care costs.
Department of Health bosses said the new funding will see the NHS deliver an extra nine million checks, scans, and operations for patients across the country in a bid to try and drive down waiting times.