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Rise in patients waiting for treatment shows ‘winter demand concerns still here’

The number of people waiting over 18 weeks for planned treatment shot up by 5% in April 2017 compared to the same time period last year.

In figures released by NHS England for April, it was also found that the number of people on the waiting list for surgery went up from 3.6 million in 2016 to 3.78 million this year.

The number of delay days also rose from 168,018 in April 2016 to 177,137 in the same period this year – which amounts to a 5.43% rise.

President of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) Clare Marx argued that the figures are concerning, and will only get worse as the impact of NHS England’s decision to deprioritise the 18-week waiting time target takes hold –  with NHS Improvement predicting waiting lists to be at 5.5 million people by March 2019.

“There is a potent mix of issues sending waiting times in the wrong direction. The NHS is treating more patients than ever before but there is also huge financial pressure and hospitals are running short of space,” she said.

“Despite medical advances enabling more surgery to take place without an overnight hospital stay, reductions in beds numbers have now gone too far.”

Marx added that the lack of social care funding is resulting in frail, older patients staying longer in hospital when they should be moved back into community care.

“The next government has an opportunity to look again at waiting times and we are keen to work with them to prioritise access to elective care, particularly by protecting bed capacity in hospitals,” she concluded.

“The prime minister rightly identified social care as an area needing much improvement and we hope any new funding arrangement here will help to reduce the pressure on the NHS and also improve waiting times.”

Figures show system creaking under pressure

The figures also showed other signs that the health service was struggling to cope with increasing pressure. The two-week standard from urgent GP referral to seeing a consultant, for example, was missed for the second time since 2009.

On top of that, and unusually for this time of year, three of the eight cancer targets were missed by trusts in England during April.

It was also found that fewer than one in five trusts with major ‘type 1’ A&Es met the target to see 95% of patients within four hours.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson stressed that the figures show that there has been no respite for the NHS.

“The concerns about the ability of the health service to respond to growing demand – which became so pressing during the winter – are still with us,” he said.

Hopson also called on the government for urgent decisions to ensure the NHS has the capacity to deal with the coming winter, and beyond that, to respond to longer-term pressures.

“It is clear that trusts are continuing to do all they can,” Hopson warned. “But it is equally clear the situation is unsustainable.

“Despite political uncertainty, we need urgent decisions to ensure the NHS has the capacity to deal with the coming winter, and beyond that, to respond to longer term pressures.”

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