100-fold rise in patients waiting a year for treatment at NHS hospitals

The number of patients waiting more than a year for NHS treatment has risen 100-fold in a year, new figures show. 

Across England, 139,545 people had waited more than 52 weeks to start treatment as of September this year – the highest number for any calendar month since September 2008.

In September 2019, the figure was just 1,305.

The data from NHS England also shows 1.72 million people were waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment in September.

This is down from 1.96 million in August, but is up sharply on the equivalent figure for September 2019 of 672,112.

Experts have warned the figures “clearly show the pressures the system is under”. 

The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was also down 27 per cent in September compared with a year ago.

Some 209,562 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, down from 288,230 in September 2019.

The year-on-year decrease recorded in August was 43 per cent, and in July the drop was 55 per cent.

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the pressure from the pandemic has resulted in “growing concerns of overcrowding” in NHS hospitals which could comprise patient safety and infection control. 

“This is being driven by both Covid-related illness on top of an increasing seasonal demand and, with data continuing to show how hospitals are struggling greatly before we enter the winter months, we are deeply concerned,” he said.

“For only 84.4 per cent of people to be seen within four hours in A&Es despite a decrease in attendance of 26 per cent on last year shows the extent of the difficulties being face – but we must also remember the 95 per cent target has not been met since July 2015 so the issues in our hospitals go back much further than the pandemic.”

He added it was “distressing” to see the total number patients waiting six weeks or more from referral to key diagnostic tests was was 420,400 – “33 per cent of the total number of patients waiting against a target of less than 1 per cent per cent”.

“Unfortunately for many, delays at this stage result in a need for urgent care in the near future,” he said.

“These figures clearly show the pressures the system is under, despite the lower overall numbers, is almost certainly due to the restrictions in place to keep Covid and non-Covid patients separate.”

NHS England said the coronavirus pandemic is impacting on routine non-urgent care in areas where cases are rising, but argued cancer services as “back at pre-pandemic levels”.

(The chart below shows the NHS wait times from last month, which have now increased.)

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