The number of people in England waiting for hospital treatment has reached a new record level and patients have been warned it will go even higher.
A total of 5.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of July, according to new figures from NHS England. This is the highest number since records began in August 2007 and includes those waiting for hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned the number of people on waiting lists will continue to increase before the billions of pounds being pumped into the NHS starts to address the problem.
The number having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at 293,102 in July 2021, down from 304,803 in the previous month, but more than three times the number waiting a year earlier, in July 2020, which was 83,203. Mr Javid told the PA news agency: The waiting lists will go up before they go down again.
The Health Secretary, on a visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, added: “We’ve seen that around seven million people haven’t come forward in the normal way because of the pandemic. We want them to come forward and we want to tell them the NHS is open for them.
But I know with this catch-up fund, and the innovation the NHS can do, we can tackle the waiting lists. He promised the wider use of surgical hubs able to treat more patients, more quickly, as Moorfields was doing for cataract procedures. What I’ve seen here today is a great example of how hospitals can plough through the waiting list, he said.
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund health think tank, said: 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.
The latest data 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), although 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 with last, while hospitals cared for thousands more patients with Covid.
This came as the number of Covid patients in hospital grew from under 800 at the start of June to more than 5,000 at the end of July. There are now more than 6,300 Covid patients in hospital, compared with fewer than 600 this time last year.
NHS England also pointed to data showing that almost half a million people were checked for cancer in June and July, among the highest numbers on record.