NHS waiting lists have soared to another record high, grim data revealed today.
Around 7.68million patients in England — or one in seven people — were in the queue in July for procedures such hip and knee replacements, official figures show.
This includes almost 390,000 patients who have waited at least one year for treatment, often in pain.
NHS bosses blamed medic strikes for heaping extra pressure onto already struggling hospitals — with 400,000 appointments rescheduled this summer due to walkouts.
Health leaders 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
NHS England monthly performance data released today that the waiting list grew by more than 100,000 between June and July.
The 7.68million toll marks the highest figures logged since NHS records began in August 2007 and a rise of nearly three quarters of a million (742,000) on July 2022.
For comparison, around 4.4million were stuck in the system when the pandemic reached the UK.
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’.
And the NHS said today that industrial action had piled pressure on the health service, with around 900,000 appointments cancelled since strikes began in December.
It said the true impact of walkouts is much higher, as many hospitals avoid scheduling operations for strike dates.
Junior doctors have already staged 19 days of action since March and will undertake four days of joint strike action this autumn with coordinated walkouts in England over separate days next week and into October.
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.’
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’.
Separate data for A&E shows that patient care plummeted in August as emergency departments faced their busiest summer yet.
Just under three-quarters of emergency department attendees (73 per cent) were seen within four hours in August, down from 74 per cent in July.
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, up from 23,934 in July.
There were more than 6.5million attendances in A&Es across June, July and August — 20,000 more than the previous record in 2019.
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
Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the figures show that there is ”a trajectory towards a winter equally as bad as last year’s “worst ever”.’
He said: ‘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.’
Dr Cooksley pointed to the case of a 90-year-old Harold Pedley in Blackpool, who died waiting to be seen by a doctor in a chair in an overcrowded emergency unit.
He said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Separate NHS data on ambulance figures for August however show response times improved — but patients were still left waiting too long.
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.
However, this is still nearly double the NHS 18-minute target.
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 shows 2.2million tests and checks were delivered in August, 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 cancer patients (62.6 per cent) were seen within the two-month target in July.
NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this time-frame. However, 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.
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
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.’
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.