NHS waiting lists have soared to another record high, grim data revealed today.
Around 7.68million patients in England are now in the backlog for procedures such hip and knee replacements, official figures show.
It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care.
This includes almost 390,000 patients who have waited at least one year for treatment, often in pain.
Health chiefs blamed strikes by doctors, nurses and other NHS workers for heaping extra pressure onto already struggling hospitals, while experts warned that the service is ‘heading for even more extremely troubled times’ as winter approaches.
England’s backlog, for procedures like hip and knee replacements, now stands at 7.68million, official figures show. It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care. This includes almost 390,000 patients who have gone a year without being treated
Separate A&E performance data for August shows emergency departments faced their busiest summer yet. There were more than 6.5million attendances in A&Es — 6,522,000 — across June, July and August . This is more than 20,000 higher than the previous record in 2019, which stood at 6,498,472
Some 885,154 appointments and procedures have been cancelled since walkouts began in December last year, with almost 400,0000 rescheduled during June, July and August alone.
NHS bosses fear however the true impact is likely to be much higher, as many services have had to avoid scheduling planned appointments for strike days in order to prioritise emergency care.
Summer months usually offer hospitals a break ahead of the usual busy spell, when seasonal pressures like flu and norovirus typically kick in.
But NHS England said this summer is ‘on trajectory to be the busiest in NHS history’.
Some 4.42million attendances in A&E were recorded in August.
Monthly performance data released today shows the overall waiting list has shot up from 7.57million in June.
It marks the highest total since NHS records began in August 2007 and a rise of nearly three quarters of a million (742,000) on July 2022.
Around 4.4million were stuck in the system when the pandemic reached the UK.
The Government had set the target of eliminating this backlog by April, apart from those who have exceptionally complex cases or had chosen to wait longer.
Rishi Sunak made cutting waiting lists one of his 2023 priorities, pledging in January that ‘lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly’.
However, he claimed that strikes across the health service were making the task ‘more challenging’.
Junior doctors will undertake four days of joint strike action this autumn with coordinated walkouts in England over separate days next week and into October.
Junior doctors have already staged 19 days of strike action since March, with consultants taking to the picket lines on four separate days.
Radiographers will walk out for 24 hours from 8am on October 3 joining medics on the picket lines. The strike days also coincide with Rishi Sunak’s first Tory party conference as leader and prime minister.
Emergency care – through A&E departments and 999 – is still available but patients have been told to contact NHS 111 or their local pharmacy for minor health worries.
Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: ‘Today’s figures show that despite ongoing pressures across the NHS, including record demand for emergency care this summer, and an increase in Covid cases during July and August, NHS staff are continuing to deliver for patients.’
He added: ‘But even as we talk about a summer of record demand we have already been preparing for winter, and the improvements seen in today’s data show the hard work of staff is already paying off.
‘Alongside expanding the use of out-of-hospital care – such as more virtual ward beds – and the rollout of our winter vaccination programme, we are doing all we can to prepare ahead of what has the potential to be another challenging winter with Covid and flu.
‘As ever, the public can also play their part by getting your winter vaccines when invited and use services in the usual way – 999 in an emergency and NHS111 online for other health conditions.’
Separate A&E performance data for August shows emergency departments faced their busiest summer yet.
Separate NHS data on ambulance figures for August however show response times improved for the third month in a row despite A&Es facing their busiest summer ever. Heart attack and stroke patients in England, known as category two callers, had to wait an average of 31 minutes and 30 seconds for paramedics to arrive, shaving 20 seconds off the previous month
NHS figures on cancer waiting times showed that just six in ten (62.6 per cent) cancer patients were seen within the two-month target. NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this time-frame. This target has not been met nationally since December 2015
There were more than 6.5million attendances in A&Es — 6,522,000 — across June, July and August .
This is more than 20,000 higher than the previous record in 2019, which stood at 6,498,472.
Just under three-quarters of emergency department attendees (73 per cent) were seen within four hours.
NHS standards set out 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.
Meanwhile, 28,859 patients who sought help in emergency departments were forced to wait more than 12 hours.
Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘These figures reflect the tremendous efforts of NHS staff to keep the system afloat.
‘However, they are all demonstrate a trajectory towards a winter equally as bad as last year’s “worst ever”.
‘A small wave only is needed to deepen the crisis in urgent and emergency care; well-illustrated by the hot weather last week which caused many hospitals great challenges.
‘Last week, a coroner in Blackpool issued a prevention of future death notice for Mr Pedley, a 90-year-old man who died waiting to be seen by a doctor in a chair in an overcrowded Emergency Department.’
He added: ‘Sadly he suffered a terminal event for which treatment would not have been possible; but dignity and comfort in death is an essential component of healthcare.
‘This poor man, like many others last winter, did not receive that; his case not isolated and many more will sadly have similar experiences over the next few months.
‘There is a tacit acceptance and almost normalisation of poor urgent and emergency care heading in to this winter.
‘Corridor care, overcrowded and understaffed Emergency Departments and Acute Medical Units, ongoing industrial action and a target that only one in four people wait more four hours in an Emergency Department.
‘This is an environment perfectly designed to ensure there are more patients like Mr Pedley this winter.’
He warned the NHS was ‘inevitably’ heading for ‘more extremely troubled times’, but said ‘mitigation is possible’.
He added: ‘Resolving industrial action, a stronger commitment to funding the workforce plan and a significant emergency package to support social care are essential – but the window of opportunity to do so is getting increasingly narrow.
‘Long term, sustainable and evidence-based plans are needed for the NHS so that this is not a further decade of inexorable healthcare decline in the UK.
‘These are needed now so that patients and staff can see some light at the end of an increasingly fading tunnel.’
Separate NHS data on ambulance figures for August however show response times improved for the third month in a row despite A&Es facing their busiest summer ever.
Health chiefs also blamed strike action by doctors, radiographers, nurses and other NHS workers for heaping extra pressure onto already struggling hospitals. Some 885,154 appointments and procedures have been cancelled since walkouts began in December last year, with almost 400,0000 rescheduled during June, July and August alone. Pictured, consultant members of the BMA on the picket lines outside University College London hospital in August
The decision to scrap the seven cancer targets has sparked huge backlash. The commitments being ditched include the two-week urgent referral from a GP for suspected cancer and a maximum two-week wait for breast-cancer patients to see a specialist. The NHS will now be expected to ensure 75 per cent of patients have a diagnosis or all-clear within 28 days. There will also be a maximum 31-day wait for patients to start their first treatment and a 62-day target for treatment to begin after a GP referral
Heart attack and stroke patients in England, known as category two callers, had to wait an average of 31 minutes and 30 seconds for paramedics to arrive, shaving 20 seconds off the previous month.
While response times were more than 10 minutes faster than August 2022, the NHS target is 18 minutes, however.
Ambulances took an average of eight minutes and 17 seconds to attend the most life-threatening category one calls, such as cardiac arrests. The NHS target stands at seven minutes.
Separate data also shows the highest diagnostic activity for any July, with 2.2million tests and checks delivered, contributing to the busiest summer ever for diagnostics – a total 6.6million across June, July and August.
However, NHS figures on cancer waiting times showed that just six in ten (62.6 per cent) cancer patients were seen within the two-month target.
NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this time-frame. This target has not been met nationally since December 2015.
Meanwhile, almost a quarter (74.1 per cent) of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days, up from 73.5 per cent the previous month. The target is 75 per cent.
The proportion of cancer patients who saw a specialist within two weeks of being referred urgently by their GP fell from 80.5 per cent in June to 77.5 per cent in July, missing the 93 per cent target.
The figure is one of several cancer targets that are being discontinued from October, after the NHS vowed last month to diagnose and treat cancer patients quicker, with ministers accepting its request to streamline performance targets.
The controversial reforms will see the number of cancer waiting time indicators that hospitals are measured against slashed from ten to three.
Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: ‘Today’s data is yet another snapshot of the challenges facing England’s cancer services and a message to the UK Government that things need to change.
‘These figures are amongst the worst on record and represent anxious delays faced by patients and the immense pressure on NHS staff.
‘People affected by cancer deserve more. With strong leadership and proper funding, the UK Government has the power to put an end to these unacceptable delays for tests and treatment in England.
‘At Cancer Research UK, we’re developing a blueprint for politicians that will transform cancer survival and ensure people don’t miss out on lifesaving services.
‘We look forward to sharing our vision later this year and making this a reality for people affected by cancer.’
Meanwhile, Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for the Society of Radiographers, said: ‘The Society of Radiographers went on strike in order to draw attention to waiting lists that were already unmanageable.
‘A million patients are currently waiting to be seen by a radiographer – often delaying vital diagnosis and treatment for months.
‘And the new figures are expected to show that only 59 per cent of cancer patients start treatment within the target 62-day period – many of them waiting for radiotherapy treatment.
‘The only way to tackle this is to recruit and retain more radiographers – which means paying radiographers more and offering better working conditions. This is precisely why we went on strike.’
It comes as data published on Tuesday also showed the number of Brits paying for private medical treatment has now hit a record high.
Around 227,000 people in the UK sought private treatment in the first three months of 2023.
It marks a four per cent jump on the previous record of 219,000 set in the final quarter of 2022.
The rise in demand for paid-for care is being driven by continuing growth in insured treatments — 156,000, up from 149,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022 — as more businesses and households turn to private healthcare plans to safeguard the health of employees due to the growing difficulties in getting treatment on the NHS.