Record 5.45m people on NHS England waiting lists

Health chief warns that crisis is nearing ‘boiling point’ as backlog grows

Surgery at an NHS hospital

A record 5.45m people in England were waiting to start routine hospital treatments in June, according to NHS data released days after experts predicted that the NHS backlog may almost treble within just over a year.

The Times reports that “despite efforts to clear the unprecedented backlog of elective patients”, 5,727 people have been waiting more than two years for treatment - a 46% increase on the previous month and the highest number since records began in August 2007.

And Professor Neil Mortensen, president of Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the paper that without “significant” investment, “waiting lists will continue to grow”.

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Experts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned last week that modelling suggests the NHS backlog could increase to 14m patients by autumn 2022.

Currently, the longest waits are for hip and knee replacements, gallbladder removals and hernia operations.

The newly published data paints a “mixed picture”, says the BBC. While the number of people waiting for more than two years has increased, the numbers waiting for more than 18 weeks or a year are both down.

Cancer checks and referrals are also “up significantly from last year”, The Times reports. About 250,000 people were checked for cancer in June, the second-highest number on record, and more than 27,000 started treatment for cancer, a 42% year-on-year increase.

However, the president of The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Katherine Henderson, has warned that while the public perception is that things are “getting back to normal”, the reality was that the health service was “really struggling”.

“The NHS has been running hot for months now and these figures show we are nearly at boiling point,” she added.

Experts say the pressure on the NHS is also expected to affect patients who do get treatment. Dr Sarah Scobie, deputy research director at the Nuffield Trust healthcare think-tank, said the impact of the growing demand on “quality of care” is “likely to be significant”.

Responding to the newly released figures, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government would look at “what more we need to do” for the NHS. But the BBC’s health editor Hugh Pym predicts that Javid may face “battles” with the chancellor to get extra funding.

Meanwhile, analysis by Sky News reveals that the backlog of patients is significantly worse in some areas than others. “Leading the way is Birmingham and Solihull, which - as a proportion of its population - has a backlog that is more than two-and-a-half times that of the Vale of York,” the broadcaster reports.

Many areas with a high proportion of people waiting for treatment, such as Bury, Salford and Manchester, have also recorded the largest numbers of Covid patients in recent months.

The ambulance service is also under increasing pressure, with more than a million calls to 999 in July - the highest monthly figure on record.

Completing the gloomy picture, NHS England has published figures that show A&E attendances in July rose by 36.2% year-on-year to 2,162,799.

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