COVID-19: Record high hospital waiting list in England as 5.1 million need treatment

·3-min read

The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment has topped five million - the highest number ever recorded.

In total, 5,122,017 million people were waiting to begin treatment at the end of April 2021, NHS England figures show - the highest since records began in August 2007.

The figure has increased every month since May 2020, when it was 3.83 million people.

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It means the number of people having to wait longer than 52 weeks to start treatment is around 35 times higher than those waiting a year earlier.

Just over 11,000 people had to wait more than a year to begin treatment in April 2020.

But in April this year the number stood at 385,490 - down from 436,127 in the previous month.

It comes days after MPs warned NHS and social care staff burnout has reached an "emergency" level and poses a risk to the future of services - as former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said healthcare staff are facing "unacceptable pressure" at work.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is this morning being grilled by MPs over the government's response to the pandemic after former Downing Street adviser, Dominic Cummings, said he should have been fired for his handling of the crisis.

Mr Hancock hit back by saying: "You can't respond to a pandemic by pointing fingers."

The longest waits were for treatments like knee or hip replacements.

People with arthritis are "bearing the brunt" of the COVID-19 crisis, said Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at the charity Versus Arthritis.

"It is critical that people with arthritis are not left struggling in pain with their lives put on hold," Ms Loftis said.

"As longer waits lead to more severe joint damage and reduce the chance of future operations being successful, this issue becomes even more unacceptable."

Brenda, 61, from Petersfield, has been waiting more than a year for a double hip replacement.

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She's put her house on the market because climbing the stairs is such a struggle.

She told Sky News: "I haven't left my house for a year now, apart from going to my hospital appointments.

"I've been told I'm definitely still on the waiting list for surgery, but they can't give me any indication of a timeline. They just leave you hanging, thinking what am I going to do with my life?"

Almost 210,000 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in April 2021 - more than double the 80,031 made a year earlier, the NHS England data showed.

The equivalent figure for April 2019 was 199,217.

Meanwhile A&E hospital admissions in England have risen 65% compared with a year ago, NHS England said - but this is said to be a reflection of lower than usual numbers for May 2020 due to the pandemic.

A total of 2.08 million attendances were recorded in May 2021, up from 1.26 million in May 2020.

The equivalent figure for May 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 2.17 million.

NHS England national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: "Despite the extensive disruption to care caused by the pandemic, it's encouraging that today's figures show routine operations, cancer and mental health care have now all rebounded sharply.

"Average waits for non-urgent care have fallen to 11 weeks, and the number of people waiting over 52 weeks fell by more than 50,000 in April.

"Mental health services are back at pre-pandemic levels, and treatment rates for cancer are also now back to usual levels, with nearly nineteen out of twenty people starting treatment for the disease within one month."

But Dr Nick Scriven, consultant physician and immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, warned the nation's healthcare was in a "dire state".

"The warning signs about where the NHS was heading were glaringly visible a number of years ago and what we are seeing in recent monthly data is the result of a lack of preparedness for the inevitable," he added.

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