Nearly six million patients in England are on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment, official figures revealed today as hospital bosses warn of ‘sustained pressure’ on urgent care.
Data released by NHS England for October shows 5.98million people were waiting for routine surgery, such as hip and knee replacements, including more than 300,000 who had waited for more than a year.
Hospitals were forced to cancel thousands of operations during the darkest days of the pandemic to make room for the infected, leaving lives ‘on hold’ for thousands of patients battling milder conditions.
The health service faces pressure from the Covid-fuelled backlog, helping with the vaccination drive and shortages in the social care sector, which has left one in 10 hospital beds occupied by people well enough to be discharged.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month warned the backlog would ‘go up before it comes down’ because around eight million people expected to come forward during the pandemic stayed away from the health service. Earlier this year, he warned the waiting list could hit 13million if urgent action wasn’t taken.
Meanwhile, A&E performance dropped to its worst ever level, with record numbers waiting more than 12 hours to be seen and the proportion of patients seen within the four-hour target remained at its lowest level for the second month in a row.
Sajid Javid warns Britain could breach 1MILLION cases of Omicron by the end of December as Chris Whitty says Covid hospitalisations could hit 1,000 a day by New Year
Britain could breach 1million Omicron cases by the end of December, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned today as the Government activated its ‘Plan B’ after SAGE warned the NHS was on track to being overwhelmed without tougher curbs.
Justifying the tightening of restrictions in the Commons tonight, the Health Secretary told MPs he had been briefed by No10 scientists that the country was staring down the barrel of a seven-figure infection numbers in a matter of weeks.
Mr Javid said: ‘Although there are only 568 confirmed Omicron cases in the UK we know that the actual number of infections will be significantly higher.
‘The UK health security agency estimates that the number of infections are approximately 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, and so the current number of infections is probably closer to 10,000.
‘UKHSA also estimate that at the current observed doubling rate of between two and a half and three days, by the end of this month, infections could exceed 1million.’
Professor Chris Whitty warned that a meteoric rise in infections could send hospitalisations spiralling upwards over the coming weeks.
He told the briefing: ‘That is an extraordinarily fast rate and you, therefore, can see how we could move from very small numbers to very large numbers really quite quickly.
‘That really is the reason why these measures [Plan B] have been announced by the Prime Minister as agreed by ministers today.’
The NHS England data shows the mammoth waiting list has nearly reached six million, up from an average of 4.4million in the year before Covid hit the UK.
The health service’s own rules set out that patients should not wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment. But a third of patients are not being seen within this timeframe.
More than 2million had been waiting for more than four months — the second-highest figure ever recorded.
And 312,665 — one in 20 patients — were forced to wait for more than a year for treatment.
Separate data on A&E attendances in November shows the number of patients spending more than 12 hours to be seen reached 10,646 — a 51 per cent hike on the figure last month, which was already at a record level.
And 120,749 people had to wait more than four hours to receive care. The figure is the second-highest ever recorded and only slightly fewer than last month.
The proportion of patients seen within four hours at major emergency departments remained at 61.9 per cent for the second month in a row, the lowest number since records began in 2010.
Around 2million people in England sought emergency care last month, six per cent less than October, while there were 506,238 emergency admissions, down two per cent on last month.
Meanwhile, ambulance wait times improved in November as 999 calls fell to the lowest level seen in five months.
Some 879,192 calls were made, equating to 29,000 every day, which is 10 per cent less than last month, but 11 per cent more than November 2019 and 34 per cent higher than the same month in 2020.
And the average ambulance response time to Category 2 calls, which includes stroke and other emergencies, was 46 minutes and 37 seconds, marking a drop on the 53 minutes and 54 seconds response in October. But the wait was much more than double the health service’s own target of 18 minutes.
Ambulance staff responded to nine in 10 calls within one hour, 40 minutes and 57 seconds, compared to the target time of 18 minutes.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘These figures show that NHS staff are continuing to address the Covid backlog in the face of sustained pressure on urgent and emergency care.
‘As we head into a very challenging winter, we are working with partners in social care to get as many patients who are fit to do so home for Christmas, which is right for them and their families as well as freeing up beds.
‘There is much we do not know about Omicron but experts advise that vaccines will still help in our fight against the virus.
‘Thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers the NHS Covid vaccination programme has delivered more than 100million jabs, so do come forward when it is your turn.’
Tim Gardner, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said today’s figures show the health service was ‘already facing an exceptionally difficult winter, even before the emergence of the Omicron variant’.
He said: ‘While the NHS has little choice but to weather the storm over the coming weeks, a credible strategy for restoring normal levels of service will be vital.
‘The NHS recovery plan that has been promised needs to be realistic about the time it could take to bring waiting lists down to manageable levels.’