So much for tackling the backlog! NHS waiting list shoots to ANOTHER record high of 7.21m


The number of people in England waiting for routine hospital treatment has soared to another record high.

NHS data shows there were 7.21million patients queuing for operations in January, the highest figure ever logged and nearly 3million more than pre-pandemic levels.

While the number waiting more than a year for elective procedures has fallen, one in 20 people stuck in the backlog are forced to wait this long.

For the first time ever, nearly half of cancer patients did not start treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral — the lowest proportion ever. 

Top oncologists warned the ‘devastating figure’ means more than 7,000 cancer patients were let down in January — and warned the figure will ‘continue to swell’. 

Data from NHS England shows that the number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment jumped by 13,000 in January to 7.21million. The record figure means there is 64 per cent more people stuck in the queue, often in pain, compared to before Covid struck

NHS figures show that cancer performance plummeted to a record low in January. Just 54.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. The NHS's own rulebook sets out that at least 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015

NHS figures show that cancer performance plummeted to a record low in January. Just 54.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. The NHS’s own rulebook sets out that at least 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015

Data from NHS England shows that the number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment jumped by 13,000 in January to 7.21million.

The record figure means there is 64 per cent more people stuck in the queue, often in pain, compared to before Covid struck.

The number who have been waiting for more than one year for NHS care fell by nearly 27,000 in January.

But a huge 379,245 — 5.3 per cent of those in the backlog — have been waiting at least 12 months.

And 45,631 people have been waiting for at least 18 months. The figure is down by around 9,000 in a month.

The NHS today claimed that the number of people waiting longest for hospital care has fallen, despite winter pressures and strikes.

What do the latest NHS performance figures show?

The overall waiting list grew by around 13,000 to 7.21million in January. This is up from 7.20 in December. 

There were 1,122 people waiting more than two years to start treatment at the end of January, down from 1,149 in December. 

The number of people waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment was 379,245, down from 406,035 the previous month.

Some 34,976 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in February. The figure is down from 42,735 in January.

A total of 126,948 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in February, down from 142,139 in January.

Just 71.5 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, the worst ever performance. NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.

In February, the average category one response time – calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was 8 minutes and 30 seconds. The target time is seven minutes.

Ambulances took an average of 32 minutes and 20 seconds to respond to category two calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is nearly 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 1 hour, 42 minutes and 39 seconds. Nine in 10 ambulances are supposed to arrive to these calls within two hours.

Some 485,956 patients were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in January, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy. This is the highest level since summer 2020.

And latest data, up to February 26, shows 18 month waits have fallen to 32,786, it said.

It said one stop shops in local communities helped staff perform a record 2.1million diagnostic tests in January.

However, 485,956 patients were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in January, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy. This is the highest level since summer 2020.

The NHS pointed to pressure from high levels of respiratory illnesses, with around 10,000 beds a day in January taken up by Covid and flu patients. 

And nine in 10 beds were occupied in February and nearly 14,000 beds a day were taken up by patients who were medically fit to be discharged. 

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: ‘There was no let-up as staff contended with significant levels of respiratory illness in hospital, which came at the same time as disruption from industrial action.’

He said: ‘The NHS will not stop in its efforts to bring down 18 month waits for elective care and bring down the cancer backlog.

‘But it is inevitable that if the upcoming junior doctors strikes happen they will have a significant impact on cancer care and routine operations that were scheduled to happen – as ever, we will do all we can to limit the impact to patients.

‘We might be heading towards spring but with the current cold snap it couldn’t feel more like winter, and NHS services continue to be pressured.’

The junior doctor strike, which start at 7am on Monday and will last 72 hours, will see medics walk out of both routine and emergency care.

They are seeking a 25 per cent pay hike — arguing this is needed to restore their pay to levels in 2008.

Meanwhile, NHS figures show that cancer performance plummeted to a record low in January.

Just 54.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. 

The NHS’s own rulebook sets out that at least 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015.

Meanwhile, just 67 per cent of patients with suspected cancer were diagnosed or had the disease ruled out within 28 days — the second lowest figure ever recorded.

Professor Pat Price, an oncologist at Imperial College London and co-founder of the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign, said the figures show ‘more patients waiting longer than ever before life-saving cancer treatment’. 

She said: ‘For the first time ever, devastatingly, nearly 50 per cent of cancer patients have missed this crucial treatment target. 

‘Over 7,000 cancer patients in just one month have been let down.

‘But the reaction from the Government and NHS is not only to push back the recovery targets – again – by another year to March 2024, the third year they have pushed it back, but also to completely shelve the needed and urgent cancer plan.’

NHS England’s national cancer director, Dame Cally Palmer, this week told MPs that the 62-day cancer backlog may not return to pre-pandemic levels until March 2024 — a year later than planned. 

Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced in January that the long-term cancer plan, which would have focused on research and boosting the cancer workforce, was being ditched in favour of a ‘major conditions strategy’ that covers cancer, as well as dementia and mental health. 

Professor Price said: ‘Without a dedicated cancer plan, the targets will never be met, and the situation in cancer care in this country will only dramatically worsen. 

NHS data on A&E performance in February shows that just seven in 10 A&E attendees (71.5 per cent) were seen within four hours of showing up at A&E (red line). Meanwhile, 34,976 patients who sought help in emergency departments were forced to wait more than 12 hours — equivalent to more than 1,000 patients per day (yellow bar)

NHS data on A&E performance in February shows that just seven in 10 A&E attendees (71.5 per cent) were seen within four hours of showing up at A&E (red line). Meanwhile, 34,976 patients who sought help in emergency departments were forced to wait more than 12 hours — equivalent to more than 1,000 patients per day (yellow bar)

Ambulance data for February shows that heart attack and stroke patients in England, known as category two callers, had to wait 32 minutes and 20 seconds, on average, for paramedics to show up. This is 14 seconds slower than January and nearly double the 18-minute target

Ambulance data for February shows that heart attack and stroke patients in England, known as category two callers, had to wait 32 minutes and 20 seconds, on average, for paramedics to show up. This is 14 seconds slower than January and nearly double the 18-minute target

‘Solutions, like radiotherapy, can solve this crisis and reduce these astronomical waiting times.

‘But without a cancer plan and investment into treatment solutions, such as radiotherapy, I am worried that each month the number of cancer patients missing life-saving targets will continue to swell. 

‘As a cancer clinician, I am frightened – when will we restore cancer services in this country?’

The NHS noted that, in January, it checked 228,197 people for cancer and 27,882 started treatment — the highest figures logged for January since records began.

Separate NHS data on A&E performance in February shows that just seven in 10 A&E attendees (71.5 per cent) were seen within four hours of showing up at A&E. 

NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window. 

The figure is down by one per cent in a month — though it is higher than levels logged earlier in the autumn and winter, during the emergency care crisis.

Meanwhile, 34,976 patients who sought help in emergency departments were forced to wait more than 12 hours — equivalent to more than 1,000 patients per day.

The figure is the lowest logged since September but is around 30 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, when around 1,200 patients had to wait half a day in A&E.

Ambulance data for February shows that heart attack and stroke patients in England had to wait 32 minutes and 20 seconds, on average, for paramedics to show up. 

This is 14 seconds slower than January and nearly double the 18-minute target.

One in 10 of these callers, known as category two, had to wait at least 1 hour, eight minutes and 45 second.

Meanwhile, response time to category one calls — those from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, such as a serious allergic reaction — took eight minutes and 30 seconds, on average, last month.

The health service’s own handbook sets out that 999 crews should take no longer than 7 minutes, on average, to respond to these calls. 

Response times for category three calls – such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes – averaged 1 hour, 42 minutes and 39 seconds. 

Nine in 10 ambulances are supposed to arrive to these calls within two hours.  

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the figures show that urgent and emergency care remain ‘under significant strain’ and this is ‘increasingly causing harm to patients’.

He said: ‘Timely, high-quality patient care is often not being delivered due to overcrowding in emergency departments and acute medical units.

‘The number of 12 hours waits or more in England’s emergency departments is gravely concerning. 

‘Acute medical care is now routinely delivered by teams in emergency departments rather than in optimal environments and this poses significant risk to patients, particularly older patients who bear the brunt of this deteriorating situation.

‘This situation is driven by workforce and capacity constraints and, while the Covid pandemic accentuated and arguably expedited the crisis, the decline has been developing over the last decade. It requires urgent action to ensure it has reached its nadir.’

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