The number of people in England waiting for hospital treatment has hit a new record high, according to figures from NHS England.
A total of 5.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of July – up more than 100,000 on last month when the figure stood at 5.45 million.
That is the highest figure since records began in August 2007 and includes people waiting for hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.
The number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to begin treatment was 293,102 in July this year – down from 304,803 the previous month, but more than three times the number waiting in July 2020 which was 83,203.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he has warned the NHS waiting lists could reach 13 million without immediate action as he pledged to tackle growing numbers.
Chief analyst at The King’s Fund, Siva Anandaciva, said waiting lists for routine NHS care have “swollen to levels last seen 15 years ago”, despite the best efforts of healthcare staff.
“There are over 5.6 million people waiting for care already, often in pain and dealing with the uncertainty of when they will be treated.
“All NHS services are affected, with primary care, hospital care and mental health services seeing the demand for care rise, as the immediate threat of COVID-19 recedes”, he said.
Mr Anandaciva did note that “even before COVID-19, waiting lists for treatment had substantially worsened”, and although new investment promised by the government is welcome, it “will not lead to an increase in the number of hospital beds or clinical staff overnight”.
“The Prime Minister is right to warn the public that waiting lists will get worse before they get better.
“To deliver on his promise to cut the backlog, the Government now needs to back the investment it has provided with a plan to ensure the NHS gets the staff it needs”, he added.
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The longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment such as hip and knee replacements, followed by general surgery such as gallbladder removals and hernia operations.
Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said the overall data showed 7,980 patients waiting more than two years for treatment.
He said: “Today’s waiting times figures show the new funding for planned surgery is sorely needed.
“Behind these eye-watering statistics are patients waiting in pain for hip and knee replacements and for heart, brain and other operations.
“Without surgery, many would be left unable to work or carry out everyday activities, their quality of life greatly diminished.
He noted that reducing the backlog will “require commitment” and a “great deal of hard work” from NHS staff.
The latest data also shows the total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England in July 2021 was 259,642, up 82% from a year earlier (142,818).
However, this reflects lower-than-usual figures for July 2020, which were affected by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The equivalent figure for July 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 314,280
NHS England said many more tests and treatments have been delivered this summer compared to last, while hospitals cared for thousands more patients with COVID.
The number of patients in hospital with the virus grew from under 800 at the start of June to more than 5,000 at the end of July.
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There are now more than 6,300 COVID patients in hospital, compared with fewer than 600 this time last year.
The data also showed almost half a million people were checked for cancer in June and July, among the highest numbers on record.
There were 3.9 million diagnostic tests and 2.6 million patients who started consultant-led treatment in June and July, compared with 2.7 million tests and 1.6 million treatments over the same time last year, NHS England said.
NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, has praised healthcare staff saying they have “pulled out all the stops” to deliver services and treatments.
He said: “Caring for 450,000 patients with the virus has inevitably had a knock-on effect on less urgent care and left a backlog but staff are working around the clock to make the best possible use of government investment to treat as many people as possible.”
Professor Powis added that he expects more people to come forward for treatment in the coming months and used anyone who needs the NHS to come forward.
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