Record 4.6m NHS patients waiting to start hospital treatment

11 March 2021, 11:26 | Updated: 11 March 2021, 16:00

Waiting times for hospital treatment have skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Waiting times for hospital treatment have skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to a new record high.

Almost 4.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of January 2021, according to figures from NHS England - the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment stood at 304,044 in January 2021, a staggering 18,000% increase compared with January 2020.

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Data also shows the total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 54% in January 2021 compared with last year.

Some 139,378 patients were admitted for treatment during the month - significantly down from the 304,888 admitted last January.

Emergency admissions to A&E departments in England also showed a fall last month, down from 510,811 in February 2020 to 421,651 in February 2021.

NHS England figures also show that a total of 171,231 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in January 2021, compared with 191,852 in January 2020 - a year-on-year drop of 11%.

This follows year-on-year increases of 7% in December 2020 and 2% in November.

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Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present - although not initially suspected - were down from 14,299 in January 2020 to 12,437 in January 2021, a fall of 13%.

NHS England said the shocking figures are "likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response" and suggests many people continue to avoid A&E because of the pandemic.

NHS England has said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a major drop in hospital admissions
NHS England has said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a major drop in hospital admissions. Picture: PA Images

National medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: "Admitting more than 100,000 Covid patients to hospital in a single month inevitably had a knock-on effect on some non-urgent care.

"However, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff and the innovations in treatment and care developed over the course of the pandemic, hospitals treated more than one million people with other conditions in January, at the peak of the winter wave, nearly twice as many as they did last April.

"That is a testament to the skill, dedication and commitment nurses, doctors, therapists and countless other staff showed in the most challenging period in NHS history."

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It comes as new figures released by the NHS show more than four-in-10 NHS staff in England said they felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in 2020, a new survey has found.

The NHS Staff Survey 2020, published on Thursday, found that 44% of staff had reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous 12 months, up from 40% the previous year.

The survey found that the increases were steepest in acute and community trusts and acute specialist trusts.

Some 595,270 NHS employees in England responded to the survey, which was carried out between September and December last year.