NHS waiting list tops 7m for first time ever as A&E trolley waits hit record high

A total of 7 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of August - the highest since records began. ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan saw how staff at St George's Hospital in South London are coping

The NHS waiting list for treatment has hit seven million people for the first time ever, as A&E trolley waits also hit a record high.

New data from NHS England shows there were seven million people waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of August.

This is up from 6.8 million in July and is the highest number since records began in August 2007.

Patients waiting for NHS hospital treatment in England. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, the number of people enduring long trolley waits – referring to the time spent in A&E before people are found a bed on a hospital ward – has also risen.

The number waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England from a decision to admit them to actually being admitted hit 32,776 people in September.

This is up from 28,756 in August and is the highest number in records going back to August 2010.

A total of 71% of patients in England were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, the joint-worst performance on record, set against a target of 95%. Elsewhere, a total of 387,257 people had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment at the end of August.

Patients in England waiting more than two years to start hospital treatment. Credit: PA

This is up from 377,689 at the end of July, and is the equivalent of one in 18 people on the entire waiting list. The government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025. “NHS services are facing a range of really serious challenges which impact on patients and the quality and timeliness of care they receive – including crumbling buildings and outdated equipment, long waiting lists for care, high levels of Covid-19, and growing staff shortages," Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund think tank said.

In July, ITV was granted unprecedented access to the crisis in the NHS, which is also causing dangerous delays for ambulance crews

This video contains distressing images

The average response time in September for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was nine minutes and 19 seconds, the new figures show. This is up from nine minutes and eight seconds in August, though below the record longest average response time for this category of nine minutes and 35 seconds, which was reached in July. The target standard response time for urgent incidents is seven minutes.

For other emergency calls concerning burns, epilepsy and strokes, ambulances took an average of 47 minutes and 59 seconds in September to respond. This is up from 42 minutes and 44 seconds in August and well above the target of 18 minutes. Response times for urgent calls, such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes, averaged two hours, 42 minutes and 28 seconds. This is up from two hours, 16 minutes and 23 seconds in August.

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The figures also show a record 255,055 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in August, the highest monthly total in records going back to 2009. However, only 75.6% of patients in England saw a specialist within two weeks that month against a 93% target, the second-worst performance on record. Meanwhile, 69.5% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days in August, down from 71.1% the previous month and the second-worst performance in records going back to April 2021.

Credit: PA

“Despite huge pressures on the NHS this summer, the incredible work of colleagues across the country meant that in August we delivered more potentially life-saving cancer checks than ever before, and cut 18-month waits by 60% over the last year," NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said.

He added: “This was despite continued pressure from Covid patients in hospital, which has now risen to more than double the numbers seen in August, and more of the most serious ambulance callouts than before the pandemic.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “It is totally unacceptable for millions of people to be left waiting months or even years for treatment, often for painful and debilitating conditions.”

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “Behind these figures are countless human tragedies. In every corner of the country people are frightened, suffering and waiting in pain because our NHS can no longer cope.”