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Hospital waiting lists in England are longer than at any time since records began and nearly 388,000 people have waited more than a year to start treatment.
The NHS England data for February exposes the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the health service.
About 4.7 million people are now waiting for hospital treatment, the highest number since at least August 2007. The number of people waiting for 52 weeks or more is higher than at any time in more than 13 years.
Referrals for urgent cancer treatment were also down 8% on last year, with 15,475 fewer people being sent for help. Fewer people were admitted to accident and emergency departments, down by more than 50,000 to 503,913 in March compared with the same time in 2019, before the pandemic hit.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the data “illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment” and the King’s Fund health thinktank described the data as “a bleak picture of the challenges facing the English health service”.
NHS England defended its record, saying resources had been diverted to treating 140,000 Covid patients in January and February, about 40% of all people admitted to hospital in England so far with the virus.
Nurses, still smarting from the government’s proposal of a 1% pay rise, responded by calling on ministers to reconsider the wage deal “if it is to avoid an exodus of staff needed for the recovery of the NHS”.
“Ministers must now be honest about the real pressures on the NHS and properly invest in the workforce,” said Dame Donna Kinnair, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, tweeted that patients were “paying the price” of “10 years of Tory underfunding, cuts, chronic staff shortages [which] left the NHS weakened when the pandemic hit”.
During this busiest period of the pandemic for hospitals, NHS England said it still carried out 1.9m elective procedures or support appointments and that in February twice as many people were referred for cancer checks than during the first wave in April 2020.
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “Treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 over the course of the last year has inevitably had an impact on the NHS but it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of staff that they managed to deliver almost a million ops and procedures in the face of the winter wave”.
But Macmillan said that despite a marginal increase in referrals from January 2021, “tens of thousands of people are still missing a diagnosis due to disruption caused by the pandemic, which could affect their prognosis”.
Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at the cancer charity, said: “It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten. The NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully funded plan for its workforce, ensuring more dedicated staff are able to provide the best care for cancer patients.”
The King’s Fund called for a workforce strategy to tackle persistent staff shortages. David Maguire, a senior analyst, said: “Nearly one in 12 people on NHS waiting lists have now been stuck waiting over a year. Even if the NHS meets its challenging targets to increase activity in hospitals, the queues for care are set to continue growing for many months to come.
“Long waiting times don’t just affect patients in need of hospital or cancer care. There are now growing concerns about access to community services that help to keep people healthy, and mental health services, especially those for children and young people.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hospital waiting lists in England at longest since records began | Hospitals