Number of people waiting for NHS hospital treatment in England reaches new high

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the ever worsening crisis in the health service

The waiting list for NHS treatment has hit an all-time high, while a record number of people waited more than 12 hours from a decision to admit them in A&E to getting a bed, new figures show.

The latest round of NHS England figures lay bare the crisis in the health service, recording a total 7.1 million people waiting to start treatment at the end of September, up from 7 million in August.

The waiting list has reached its highest number since records began in August 2007, NHS England said.

Meanwhile, 401,537 people have been waiting longer than a year to start hospital treatment, up from 387,257 at the end of August and equivalent to around one in 18 people on the entire waiting list.

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 also risen to a new record high, figures show.

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan and Political Editor Robert Peston explain more about the increasing NHS waiting list.

They reveal that 43,792 people waited longer than 12 hours in October, up 34% from 32,776 in September and the highest number in records going back to August 2010. The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission also reached a new peak of 150,922 in October, up from 131,861 the previous month.

Some 251,977 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in September, down from 255,055 the previous month but the highest number recorded for the month of September.

However, only 72.6% of patients in England had a first consultant appointment within two weeks that month against a 93% target, the worst performance on record.

Meanwhile, 67.2% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days in September, down from 69.5% the previous month and the second-worst performance in records going back to April 2021. The target, set for March 2024, is for 75% of patients to be seen.

NHS data published today also showed the number of urgent cancer referrals by GPs was up 11% for the 12 months ending in September, compared with the previous year.

NHS analysis published Wednesday also showed the health service is diagnosing more patients with cancer at an earlier stage than ever before.

Last year, 100,461 patients were diagnosed with cancer at stages one or two when it is easier to treat – the highest proportion on record.

NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “There is no doubt October has been a challenging month for staff who are now facing a tripledemic of Covid, flu and record pressure on emergency services with more people attending A&E or requiring the most urgent ambulance callout than any other October.

NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, warned that strikes will have an ‘enormous impact’ Credit: Toby Melville/PA

"Pressure on emergency services remains high as a result of more than 13,000 beds taken up each day by people who no longer need to be in hospital.

"But staff have kept their foot on the accelerator to get the backlog down with 18-month waiters down by three-fifths on last year.

"We have always said the overall waiting list would rise as more patients come forward, and with pressures on staff set to increase over the winter months, the NHS has a plan – including a new falls service, 24/7 war rooms and extra beds and call handlers.

"The public can continue to play their part by getting their jabs and using NHS services in the usual way by calling 999 in an emergency and using 111 online for other health issues."

Some of the other newly released figures from NHS England on the state of the health service:

  • Some 2,239 people in England had been waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of September. This is down slightly from 2,646 at the end of August, while the number peaked at 23,778 in January 2022.

  • The average response time in October for ambulances in England outside London dealing with the most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was nine minutes and 56 seconds.

  • Ambulances in England outside London took an average of one hour, one minute and 19 seconds in October to respond to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes – well above the target of 18 minutes.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Behind today’s numbers are real people affected by cancer and facing unacceptably long waits for diagnosis and treatment during what is already an incredibly anxious time – real people who continue to be promised better by successive health secretaries, but who nonetheless continue to be let down.”

The data suggests the health service is struggling to keep up with demand, with people facing long waits for key tests, some cancer checks, and routine and emergency care.

The government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.

The newly released figures came after it was announced by the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday that its members in the majority of NHS employers across the UK had backed industrial action.

The historic walkout over pay will involve RCN members in more than half of hospitals and community teams, but emergency care will still be staffed.

It comes amid fears that a combination of flu and Covid on top of an already stretched service could make the winter one of the toughest the health and care sector has ever faced.

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