NHS crisis deepens as record 6.8 million people on waiting list for treatment in England

Ambulances queue outside the Royal Cornwall Hospital in March. Credit: PA

New figures paint a stark picture of the pressures facing the NHS ahead of winter, with a record high of 6.8 million people in England waiting for treatment.

The waiting list is up from 6.7 million in June and is the highest number since records began in August 2007, NHS England said.

A total of 377,689 people in England were waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment at the end of July, up from 355,774 at the end of June.

It comes as the NHS tackles Covid backlogs and delays in social or community care that mean patients who clinically do not need to be in hospital cannot be discharged and continue to take up a bed.

Health leaders today warned the NHS will face “extreme pressure” this winter if new Prime Minister Liz Truss's government doesn't act.

In a new letter to the leader, experts from across the health sector called for “urgent action” to address the “considerable” pressure already felt by frontline services - describing the NHS as being in "the most challenging state it has been in for decades.”

Health leaders have predicted that the coming winter will be the “busiest on record” for the service, which is recording plummeting public satisfaction levels as frustrated patients struggle to be seen.

The latest figures also show 28,756 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E in August.

This is down from a record 29,317 in July but still the second highest number reported for any calendar month in records going back to August 2010.

Ambulance wait times for urgent incidents also remained above the target, with people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries waiting on average nine minutes and eight seconds.

This is down from nine minutes and 35 seconds in July, which was the joint longest average response time for this category of incidents since current records began in 2017.

The target standard response time for urgent incidents is seven minutes.

A total of 71.4% of patients in England were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, up from 71.0% in July, but still the second-worst performance on record.

The operational standard is that at least 95% of patients attending A&E should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, but this has not been met nationally since 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England from a decision to admit to actually being admitted has fallen, although the figures are still close to record levels.

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The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission stood at 130,528 in August, down from 136,221 the previous month.

Health leaders warned the NHS is facing "extreme pressure" in the coming months without intervention from Liz Truss's government.But a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) last year warned NHS waiting lists in England could rise to 14 million by autumn 2022.

New health secretary Thérèse Coffey told ITV News on Tuesday her focus for the NHS will be how best to clear hospital beds to avoid further ambulance delays and ensure patients get access to urgent treatment, vowing to tackle issues that see patients staying in hospital due to a lack of social care options.

Ambulances in England took an average of 42 minutes and 44 seconds last month to respond to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes, well above the target of 18 minutes, although down from 59 minutes and seven seconds in July.

Response times for urgent calls, such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes, averaged two hours, 16 minutes and 23 seconds.

This is down from three hours, 17 minutes and six seconds in July.

The pandemic caused treatment wait times to soar as operations were cancelled to deal with those suffering from Covid.The backlog of people in England having to wait more than two years for a routine operation shrank from 22,500 at the start of the year to fewer than 200, figures released in August showed. Patients were offered travel and accommodation costs to be treated in alternative parts of the country. The government’s hopes to eliminate 18-month waits by April 2023.