More than 5million people in England are now waiting for NHS hospital treatment — the highest number ever recorded.
Official data released today showed the number now stands at 5.12million, and has risen consistently since the Covid pandemic began.
Statistics released for the first time also revealed the true extent of the NHS backlog, with almost 65,000 patients waiting at least 18 months for routine operations, such as hip and knee replacements.
Around 2,700 patients haven’t been treated within two years.
Critics today slammed the ‘grim milestone’, calling on ministers to make tackling the ‘gigantic’ backlog their top priority. The Royal College of Surgeons called the data on patients waiting at least one year ‘particularly troubling’.
Hospitals turned their attention to treating coronavirus patients during the first and second waves, cancelling thousands of non-urgent procedures.
Health chiefs fear non-Covid care could be threatened again if the Indian variant’s rapid spread — which has left hopes of ‘Freedom Day’ going ahead on a knife-edge — causes hospital admissions to spike.
Vaccines have broken the link between cases and serious illness, but SAGE advisers still fear the mutant strain could trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave.
Millions of over-50s have yet to be fully vaccinated and data shows a single dose is slightly less effective against the Delta variant, which has bolstered calls for No10 to delay June 21 to give the NHS more time to dish out top-up jabs.
The number of people on the NHS waiting lists hit its highest-ever number of 5.12million
Meanwhile, NHS England data showed the number of patients waiting over a year for care reached 385,940 in April.
This was a drop of 50,000 from March — but is still 240 times higher than the 1,613 who were forced to wait that long before the first wave hit.
Figures show that 223,780 people were admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in April, compared to 41,121 patients in the same month last year — when Covid began to batter the NHS.
Separate NHS England figures released today showed over 2million people attended A&E in May, the highest number since January 2020.
The number A&E visits dropped to 916,575 in April 2020, marking the lowest number since records began in 2010, as people stayed at home in the first lockdown out of fear of catching Covid.
Number of Brits falling ill with Covid every day more than DOUBLES in a week to nearly 12,000
The number of Britons falling ill with Covid has more than doubled in a week amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant across the UK, a symptom-tracking study warned today.
An estimated 11,908 people across the UK were catching the virus every day in the week ending June 5, according to the ZOE Covid study, up 109 per cent from 5,677 last week.
The troubling figures add to mounting fears about England’s planned final lockdown easing on June 21 ‘Freedom Day’, with the scientist behind the surveillance study admitting the situation ‘has rapidly changed’ in the face of the mutant ‘Delta’ strain.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, said the spiralling case numbers were caused by ‘increased social interaction and a newly dominant variant that is much more transmissible’.
But he added: ‘It’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.
‘Vaccines are working and we want to encourage people to exercise caution, especially if they feel at all unwell, until they’ve been fully vaccinated. The race is on to fully vaccinate the whole population to save lives and return to normal life.’
Meanwhile, Test and Trace figures released today showed the number of positive cares in England rose by almost 45 per cent last week. More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had Covid, up from 17,000 the week before.
This was despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out. Data also showed the number of people taking rapid Covid tests has fallen to its lowest level for three months – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week.
No10’s top scientists fear the mutant Indian strain could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent version and SAGE modellers fear it will trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave — despite three-quarters of adults having been vaccinated.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the highest number of people attending the emergency department each month did not rise above 1.8million.
The NHS data also shows that GPs made 209,452 urgent cancer referrals in April, more than double the previous year’s number of 80,031.
Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present – though not initially suspected – were up from 3,866 in April 2020 to 14,259 in April 2021.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said it is ‘encouraging’ that the data shows routine operations, cancer and mental health care have ‘rebounded sharply’ following the ‘extensive disruption’ caused by the pandemic.
He said the NHS is ‘committed to restoring services to pre-pandemic levels’ .
But critics slammed the figures.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England has urged the government to make fixing waiting times their ‘top priority’.
Its vice president Tim Mitchell said: ‘Today we have sadly reached the grim milestone in England of more than 5million people on the NHS hospital waiting list.
‘Really long waits of more than a year, and in some cases more than two years, are particularly troubling. These are people waiting for operations like hip and knee replacements, or ear, nose and throat surgery.
‘This is life-changing surgery we’re talking about. Operations that can help people get back to work, that relieve pain and mean people can enjoy a decent quality of life again.
‘Surgery in many hospitals is almost at pre-pandemic levels, thanks to staff working Saturdays and evenings to catch up even though many of them are exhausted from the experience of the last year.’
He added: ‘Tackling this gigantic backlog requires new investment both in staff and infrastructure.’
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the waiting times reinforce the party’s call for an NHS rescue plan.
‘The reality is years of Tory underfunding and cuts across health care left our NHS weakened and exposed entering the pandemic with patients now left waiting even longer in pain and anxiety for treatment,’ he said.
Chris Hopson, chief of NHS Providers, warned yesterday that if there is a surge in the number of people infected with Covid once the latest lockdown restrictions are lifted, other care services could suffer.
He told Times Radio that ‘trade-offs’ will need to be made, as further lifting restrictions will lead to higher levels of hospitalisation and morality.
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said health service staff have achieved a ‘phenomenal amount’ working throughout the pandemic and simultaneously rolling out the vaccine programmer.
But pressure on the NHS is ‘once again growing’, as over 1,000 people are now in hospital, he said.
The prime minister ‘now faces a very big decision’, because no matter the size of a third wave, it will impact the services the NHS can provide, Mr Mortimer said.
NHS Providers chief Chris Hopso warned that another surge in Covid infections could lead other care services to suffer
‘If the data gives rise to any doubt, health leaders would urge him to take decisive action and delay the final lifting of lockdown restrictions,’ he added.
Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said ‘warning signs about where the NHS was heading were glaringly visible a number of years ago and what we are seeing in recent monthly data is the result of a lack of preparedness for the inevitable’.
The country is in ‘a dire state’ for treatment waiting times and the four-hour target for seeing A&E patients ‘has not been met for years now with little to no change in approach’, he said.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the ‘monumental delays’ have likely contributed to the thousands of extra heart disease and stroke deaths in England during the pandemic.
Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at Versus Arthritis, said people with arthritis are ‘bearing the brunt’ of the crisis as they wait for joint replacement surgery.
‘It is critical that people with arthritis are not left struggling in pain with their lives put on hold.
‘As longer waits lead to more severe joint damage and reduce the chance of future operations being successful, this issue becomes even more unacceptable,’ she said.
Meanwhile, a review of NHS data by consultancy firm Lane Clark & Peacock found that there are 25 times more people in certain parts of the country that have waited over a year for NHS treatment, compared to other areas.
Castle Point and Rochford in Essex had the highest proportion of people waiting over 52 weeks for care, with 573 people per 100,000.
But in south-west London, there was just 24 per 100,000.
Behind Castle Point and Rochford, Southend, Blackpool, Waltham Forest and Norfolk had the next highest proportion of people waiting longer than a year, ranging from 461 to 419 per 100,000.
The firm found that people facing the longest waits were waiting for orthopedic treatment, such as hip and knee replacements.
Many of these types of operations were postponed during the pandemic, as hospitals were overwhelmed with Covid patients, causing waiting lists to spiral.