Busy hospital waiting room

Elective waiting list hits seven million for first time ever

Elective backlog has surpassed seven million for the first time ever, despite continued progress and sustained efforts from healthcare staff amidst mounting pressures.

The numbers, that were part of NHS England’s monthly performance statistics for the end of August, also revealed that of those seven million waiters, almost 400,000 patients (387,257) had been waiting for more than 52 weeks, whilst nearly 3,000 (2,646) had been waiting for more than 104 weeks.

For those still waiting to start treatment at the end of August, the median waiting time was 13.8 weeks, with the 92nd percentile waiting time being 46.4 weeks.

The report also showed that, on average, only two in five patients were able to be discharged from hospital when they were fit to do so in September, resulting in a worrying average of 13,300 beds being occupied by patients who no longer needed to be there.

As winter approaches, demand continues to rise across the board and emergency care is no different, with category 1 ambulance call outs being a fifth higher than pre-pandemic levels in September – 56.9% of A&E patients were seen within four hours, compared to the 76.1% seen before the pandemic.

Despite the record demand and stretched workforce, the NHS did deliver a record number of cancer checks, with more than 255,000 people being tested following an urgent referral in August – the highest number ever recorded.

Responding to the figures, NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, said: “Pressures on the NHS are sky high, yet these figures show that health leaders and their teams are putting in the hard work to drive down waiting times and ensure that patients get the urgent checks and tests they need.

“However, with waiting lists over 7 million for the first time and demand intensifying across emergency care, the NHS is still experiencing the aftershock of the pandemic and over 10,000 people in hospital have coronavirus.

“The NHS will continue to work at full pelt but there is no easy fix to filling its 132,000 vacancies or addressing the horrifying real-terms funding cut services continue to face. If the government truly cares about the NHS, it must set out investment for a fully funded workforce plan and guarantee that it will protect the NHS’s capital budgets to ensure that patients are supported, both ahead of winter and in the longer term.

“While health leaders supported the government’s promise of a £500m fund to support hospitals to discharge patients safely and ensure they receive the support they need in the community, they are exasperated that not a penny of this has reached their services yet and they still don’t know when it will be released.

“Only 2 in 5 patients are currently able to be discharged from hospital on time, which leads to tens of thousands of beds occupied by people who should not be there and other people are then having to wait longer for their care. The government must act now by clarifying its position and properly invest in the NHS and social care in a timely manner to avoid this crisis from spiralling beyond control.”

For all the latest waiting time data, click here.

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