More than 120,000 patients are estimated to have died while on NHS waiting lists in England last year, official data suggests.
Analysis shows the figures may be a record, eclipsing even the number who died waiting for operations during the peak of the Covid pandemic.
The statistics are based on responses to Freedom of Information requests from 35 NHS trusts.
They showed the total number of deaths among patients waiting for operations and procedures last year stood at just over 30,000.
That number was extrapolated to take into consideration the 100 or so trusts that did not reply, generating an estimate of 120,695.
Analysis shows the figures may be a record, eclipsing even the number who died waiting for operations during the peak of the Covid pandemic (stock image)
The true figures are likely to be higher as some of England’s biggest NHS trusts did not provide data.
And they are higher than in 2021, when the country was dealing with the pandemic and an estimated 117,000 patients died while on NHS waiting lists.
Labour health spokesman Wes Streeting, responding to the figures obtained by his party, said: ‘Record numbers of people are spending their final months in pain and agony, waiting for treatment that never arrives.
‘The basic promise of the NHS – that it will be there for us when we need it – has been broken. The longer the Conservatives are in office, the longer patients will wait.’
At the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust more than 3,500 patients died waiting for treatment last year, according to the figures.
Nearly 3,000 died while on waiting lists at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, including 1,600 who had been waiting longer than 18 weeks.
Under the NHS constitution, patients have a right to start treatment within 18 weeks of a referral. East Cheshire NHS Trust was the only organisation to respond showing that nobody died while on its waiting lists last year.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting NHS waiting lists one of his five key priorities. But the latest figures show the number waiting for treatment has risen by 700,000 since he took power.
The true figures are likely to be higher as some of England’s biggest NHS trusts did not provide data (file image)
NHS England said: ‘This analysis, based on figures from just a quarter of hospital trusts, does not demonstrate a link between waits for elective treatment and deaths.
‘It would be misleading to suggest it does given the data does not include the cause of death, or any further details on the person’s age and medical conditions. The vast majority of the waiting list – about four in five patients – is seen and treated in an outpatient setting, rather than requiring admission, with more than one million patients treated within 18 weeks in June.
‘Our hardworking staff have made significant progress bringing down long waits for elective care.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘These findings are misleading. This data is based upon a small sample size and it’s wrong to suggest this reflects the picture across the health service.
‘Figures should not be compared year on year, as there are more people on waiting lists overall now because of the pandemic.
‘We have virtually eliminated 18-month waits.’