Labour is calling for an NHS rescue plan to prioritise patient care as it warns thousands waiting for hospital treatment are at risk of permanent disability and losing their livelihoods.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has pledged to use upcoming NHS legislation and votes in Parliament to demand Government action for those on hospital waiting lists.
According to data from NHS England, the number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks to start their hospital treatment stood at 387,885 in February 2021 – the highest number for any calendar month since December 2007.
A year ago, in February 2020, the number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 1,613.
Health workers have faced enormous pressures throughout the coronavirus crisis, which have pushed up hospital waiting times.
Labour is calling for an NHS recovery plan to tackle the issue, which includes urging a quarterly strategy from ministers on action being taken to bring down waiting lists.
Mr Ashworth is also calling for a pay rise for NHS staff, and for the Government to ensure the health service has the workers and equipment to deliver cancer care, surgery and mental health care that patients require.
He also urged ministers to strengthen the NHS constitution, which gives patients the right to access services within maximum waiting times, to eliminate waiting times over 52 weeks.
Mr Ashworth said: “Leaving patients in limbo waiting for surgery risks their condition worsening, leading to permanent disability, loss of livelihood and, tragically for some, loss of life.
“Labour will be using our voice and vote in Parliament to demand action to bring waiting lists down and deliver the very best cancer and mental health care.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Our NHS has faced huge challenges over the past year due to Covid-19 and we continue to support our incredible health and care staff who have kept services open for thousands of patients.
“This Government will back the NHS at every turn, making available £63 billion in health services over the last year and an additional £29 billion next year.
“This includes £1 billion to support NHS recovery by incentivising providers to address backlogs and tackle long waiting lists which have built up because of the pandemic.
“Over one million NHS staff have benefited from a multi-year pay deal agreed with trade unions, which delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses.”