NHS waiting list hits record high despite hospital admission increase

8 July 2021, 18:26

The NHS waiting list has reached a record high.
The NHS waiting list has reached a record high. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The NHS waiting list has reached a record high despite hospitals admitting more patients, official figures show.

A total of 5.3 million people were awaiting treatment at the end of May this year, marking the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The data from NHS England also showed that the number of people having had to wait over a year for treatment was 336,733 in May - almost 13 times the number it was a year earlier.

That said, it was almost a 50,000 drop from the month before.

There has also been progress with the number of hospital admissions, with pre-pandemic levels showing signs of returning.

The number of people admitted for routine treatments in hospitals in England was 242,064 in May - over four times the amount it was during the same time last year.

One year before the pandemic, the NHS admitted 295,881 people for routine treatment.

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NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: "Despite the huge disruption we have seen to care caused by the pandemic and the more than 405,000 Covid patients in our hospitals over the last 15 months, it is reassuring to see in today's figures significant reductions in waits for routine operations, and for the first time this year, a reduction in the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.

"All the while, NHS staff have dealt with rising numbers of A&E attendances while continuing to rollout the NHS Covid vaccination programme and I would urge anyone who needs a routine operation to come forward, and anyone who needs urgent care to go to NHS 111 online or call 111 so that the best option for you can be determined."

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Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised the government's lack of a plan to bring Covid infection rates down in order to help the NHS.

"More than five million people on the waiting list means record numbers waiting in pain or distress for treatment," he said.

"We know that hospitals are already under extreme pressure this summer and as Covid cases continue to rise, this is only going to get worse.

"(Health Secretary) Sajid Javid has failed to put forward a plan to bring infections down, to clear the backlog or to support our NHS in this difficult period, instead he's proposing a top-down reorganisation of our health service when it is under more pressure than ever before."

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Figures also showed that nearly 300,000 patients in England had waited more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in May.

This was a drop from the 572,615 patients waiting for one of the 15 standard tests - which include MRI scans and non-obstetric ultrasounds - in May 2020.

Head of Health at Unison Sara Gorton said: "These figures are a clear sign NHS staff will be under considerable pressure for months, if not years, to come.

"Despite the warm words from politicians recognising the exhaustion and burnout experienced across the NHS, health workers are not going to get the recuperation period desperately needed.

"All the more reason for the Prime Minister and new Health Secretary to give staff a morale-boosting pay rise, not the paltry one per cent previously touted."