NHS waiting list: Number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England rises to record high

Carly has endometriosis, a condition that causes debilitating cramps, but she has been told surgery could be nine months off, ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports

More people are waiting to start hospital treatment in England than ever before.

A total of 4.95 million people were waiting at the end of March 2021, according to figures from NHS England.

This is 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 436,127 in March 2021 – the highest number for any calendar month since August 2007, when the figure stood at 578,682.

In March 2020 the number having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 3,097.

'Hell, it's pure Hell': Carly Cleveland, who is awaiting an operation, describes to ITV News how she is feeling

Carly Cleveland has endometriosis - a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places and that causes heavy periods and infertility - and she is just one of the many thousands who is awaiting treatment.

Despite suffering debilitating cramps, she has been told surgery could be nine months away.

Ms Cleveland told ITV News: "It's pure hell, you know functioning with a three-year-old when you're crippled over in pain and put into bed in the evenings.

"I'm in the bath for two or three hours because it's the most comfortable place to be," she added.

Some of the biggest NHS waiting lists are for eye treatment. Moorfields Hospital has recently opened a walk-through diagnostic hub in a bid to speed up assessments.

Appointments can usually take up to four hours, however clinics like the one set up at Northfields Hospital can ensure patients are seen in and out in around 45 minutes.

This means up to 700 patients a week can be seen and diagnosed.

Clinical Director at Moorfields Hospital, Louisa Wickham, told ITV News: "What this allows us to do is to prioritise patients, who if they don't have immediate treatment might lose vision."

"And it also reassures patients who have got milder disease that we've seen them, we understand their condition and we can communicate with them to let them know that we will call them back when we need to."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he believes the NHS "can cope with the backlog".

Speaking earlier today, he said: "There's no question that the NHS now faces a huge backlog, it is a massive national challenge."

Mr Johnson added: "But I also know we have got a great national institution that has proved itself capable by rising to the most phenomenal challenges.

"I want to say to people with conditions that need attention...that they should be coming forward to get the medical care they need."

The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was up 6% in March 2021 compared with a year earlier – although this is partly a reflection of lower-than-usual numbers for March 2020, which were affected by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Some 220,349 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, compared with 207,754 in March 2020.

The equivalent figure for March 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 305,356.

A&E attendances at hospitals in England last month were more than double the number a year ago, NHS England said – although again this is a reflection of lower-than-usual numbers for April 2020, which were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A total of 1.87 million attendances were recorded in April 2021, up from 917,000 in April 2020.

The equivalent figure for April 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 2.11 million.

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Emergency admissions to A&E departments at hospitals in England also showed a rise last month, up from 326,581 in April 2020 to 510,150 in April 2021.

The equivalent figure for April 2019, a non-pandemic year, was 535,226.

NHS England figures also show that a total of 232,084 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in March 2021, compared with 183,603 in March 2020 – a year-on-year rise of 26%.

Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present – though not initially suspected – were up from 12,449 in March 2020 to 15,670 in March 2021, a rise of 26%.