NHS at 'breaking point' with waiting list in England hitting new high of 7.2 million people

Chetna has waited two years for endometriosis surgery, and has been unable to leave the house during this time, as ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports

GPs have described the NHS performance figures as "shameful" because they expose a health service "at breaking point" with England's record-high hospital waiting list totalling more than Denmark's entire population.

New figures from NHS England show 7.2 million people were waiting to start routine treatment at the end of October, up from 7.1 million in September and the highest number since records began in August 2007.

There are around 5.8 million people living in Denmark.

Meanwhile, in emergency departments, just 68.9% of patients in England were seen within four hours last month, down from 69.3% in October and the worst performance on record. The target is for at least 95% of patients attending A&E to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, but this has not been met nationally since 2015.

GPs on the frontline of the crisis say the ever-deepening situation in the health service is partly due to chronic underfunding and staff shortages.

"The routine hospital waiting list is more than the population of Denmark," Dr Anita Raja, a Birmingham-based GP, said.

"The general wait to see a neurologist is 18 months, a rheumatologist 18 months, while hip and knee replacements can take up to two years.

"These numbers are shameful and tell us the real state of the NHS due to continuous mismanagement and poor decision-making." "The healthcare system in this country is at breaking point."

GPs also revealed how some people are switching to private healthcare with patients facing waits of up to three years for a hip replacement and routine delays in cancer referrals.

"The arrival of Covid and funnelling of resources away from routine care has exacerbated an already dire situation, Dr Suhail Hussain, a GP in Hertfordshire and the Greater London area, said.

"I have patients who are now waiting up to three years for a hip replacement. Hospitals are refusing GP referrals as they have a massive backlog to get through and even cancer referrals are being delayed."

Many ambulance crews are facing crippling delays when they arrive at A&E. Credit: PA

Also revealed in NHS England's new data was that an estimated 410,983 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment at the end of October. This is up from 404,851 at the end of September, and is the equivalent of around one in 18 people on the entire waiting list.

Separately, data from the Office for National Statistics shows there were 9,641 deaths (14.8 per 100,000 people) from alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK, the highest number on record.

This has been partly attributed to enforced lockdowns over the last two years, social isolation and loss of regular routines driving many people to drink more.

Chetna Mistry has waited two years for endometriosis surgery, and has been unable to leave the house during this time.

She is convinced her scheduled surgery in January will be cancelled.

"You're a prisoner," she told ITV News.

"You're stuck in a body that doesn't function. "The pain is debilitating. It takes everything away. It takes every away it literally destroys the soul."

What else does the new NHS England data show?

  • Some 1,907 people in England are estimated to have been waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of October. This is down slightly from 2,239 at the end of September and is well below the peak of 23,778 in January 2022.

  • 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.

  • The data shows that 37,837 people waited longer than 12 hours in November, down 14% from the record 43,792 in October but still the second-highest monthly total in data going back to August 2010.

  • The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission also dropped from a record 150,922 in October to 143,949 in November, the second-highest on record.

  • Only 60.3% of the 14,425 cancer patients urgently referred by their GP had waited less than than two months by the time they started treatment – the second-lowest percentage on record and below the 85% target.

  • Ambulances in England outside London took an average of 48 minutes and eight seconds in November to respond to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is down from an average of one hour, one minute and 19 seconds in October, but still well above the target of 18 minutes.

Danielle Jefferies, from the King’s Fund, said: “The latest figures show an NHS bursting at the seams as services head into winter struggling to meet sharply rising demand while keeping patients safe.”

The new figures and comments come amid long delays in A&E and ambulance response times worsening.

The NHS in England also has a record high number of vacancies, with patient safety being threatened as there were more than 133,000 full-time posts unfilled at the end of September.

With winter pressures building, over 40 NHS “traffic control centres” have been set up across England with the aim of getting patients into beds more quickly and managing demand.

The “winter war rooms” will use data to respond to pressures on the health system, with staff able to divert ambulances away from full hospitals to ones with more capacity.

There has long been warnings that delays in discharging patients into the community and social care is putting additional pressure on bed capacity inside hospitals.

The government and NHS England set the ambition to eliminate all waits of more than two years, except when it is the patient’s choice or for complex cases requiring specialist treatment, by July this year.

They also aim to eliminate all waits of more than a year by March 2025.

National clinical director for urgent and emergency care, Professor Julian Redhead, said: “Despite the ongoing pressures on services which are exacerbated by flu hospitalisations, issues in social care meaning we cannot discharge patients who are ready, and record numbers needing A&E, staff have powered through to bring down some of our longest waits for care. “We have already said we are dealing with a perfect storm of pressures this winter, including increased demand for emergency are, and today announced an expansion of mental health crisis services which will ensure people suffering a mental health crisis get the help they need as quickly as possible, and reduce the chances of a patient needing to go to A&E. “That is all on top of the measures announced NHS’ winter plan published in October which includes new hubs dedicated to respiratory infections and a falls response service to free up ambulance capacity.”

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