Hospitals in England saw almost three quarters of a million fewer patients admitted for treatments such as surgery during the height of the coronavirus outbreak, the head of the NHS has revealed.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons health select committee on Tuesday Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said there were 725,000 fewer elective, or planned, admissions to hospitals during March and April.
Sir Simon said: "The number of elective admissions in March and April was around 725,000 lower than what we might have expected given pre-Covid levels of growth. The drop was greatest in April when we saw around 530,000 fewer elective episodes. That number has begun to recover quite significantly since then. As we speak, we think we're now somewhere north of 55 per cent of pre-Covid elective activity levels."
He said he hoped the NHS may bounce back to almost three quarters of normal activity levels by July or August.
Elective or planned treatments in hospitals do not cover emergency admissions or where patients are admitted because of urgent treatment.
Sir Simon's comments come as health leaders have warned the NHS is unable to return to full capacity because of the need to protect staff and patients from the risk of infection.
Some estimates suggest waiting lists for NHS surgery could rise to 10 million by the autumn.
On cancer services Sir Simon told MPs: "We saw a much higher continuation of cancer care, including cancer surgery. During the March April period, although there was a drop off in referrals. We saw around 96 per cent of the usual treatment starts for cancer over that period."
On the fear of rising waiting lists Sir Simon said: "Contrary to some of the commentary, the waiting list will go down before it goes up, potentially significantly. The reason for that is that fewer people are coming forward and being referred onto a waiting list than was the case before. So actually we've seen the overall waiting list drop by over half a million people between February and April, but we expect that as referrals return that will go up quite significantly over the second half of the year."