Record high of 5.45 million people now waiting for NHS treatment in England

12 August 2021, 19:23

NHS waiting lists for routine treatment have reached a record high.
NHS waiting lists for routine treatment have reached a record high. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a record high - but the health secretary has warned it is likely to increase even further.

The NHS continues to face pressure from the backlog in care due to the coronavirus pandemic, with some 5.45 million people waiting to start treatment at the end of June.

The latest NHS England figures show the number of people waiting for routine treatment is now the highest since records began in August 2007.

But in signs of progress, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for care has dropped by almost 25,000.

It comes after a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned the waiting list could rise to 14 million by autumn next year - and keep increasing following the challenges caused by the pandemic.

Read more: NHS waiting list in England could soar to 14 million next year, report warns

Despite hospitals admitting more patients, the IFS has warned if millions of patients who did not receive care during the pandemic return to the health service for medical attention, then the number joining the waiting list could outstrip the number being treated.

Last month, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned that NHS waiting lists in England could rocket to 13 million.

Read more: NHS waiting list could rise to 13 million, Sajid Javid warns

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph a few weeks after being appointed to the role, Mr Javid said what had "shocked me the most" was "when I was told that the waiting list is going to get a lot worse before it gets better".

The Health Secretary has previously warned the NHS waitlist could rise to 13 million.
The Health Secretary has previously warned the NHS waitlist could rise to 13 million. Picture: Alamy

He said: "Hearing that figure of 13 million, it has absolutely focused my mind and it's going to be one of my top priorities to deal with because we can't have that."

The new figures released on Thursday showed that the number of those waiting a year for treatment in June was slightly down on May's figure.

304,803 people were waiting a year in June - down from 336,733 the previous month but around six times the number from a year earlier.

NHS England said the health service is experiencing one of its busiest summers ever, and national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said staff are working to "tackle the Covid backlog".

Read more: NHS official warns of 'extreme pressure' hospitals are facing, as Covid cases rise

He said: "NHS staff have made effective use of the additional resources made available to us to recover services which were inevitably disrupted during the pandemic, and we are continuing to tackle the Covid backlog.

"This has come as services have seen some of the highest ever number of patients coming forward for care during the summer months, all at the same time as delivering the biggest and most precise vaccine rollout in our history."

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said there is still pressure in hospitals due to infection control, Covid patients and staff shortages, and he called for "significant investment in a more sustainable system, adapted to a country where the virus remains endemic" to avoid ever-growing waiting lists.

He said: "This summer, the pressure on emergency departments hasn't let up. A volatile mix of pressures is hindering the surgical recovery."