Record number of people waiting for NHS hospital treatment in England

Health leaders warn the 'very hard task' of tackling the backlog becomes 'almost impossible' amid ongoing strike action, ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports

NHS waiting lists in England have hit a new high, with a record 7.68 million people yet to start routine treatment, new figures have revealed.

Between the end of July and June, the number of people waiting for their care to begin rose by 110,000, as strike action by NHS consultants and junior doctors continued to lead to tens of thousands of cancelled appointments.

A £200 million "winter resilience" fund has been unveiled by the government, in response, which Rishi Sunak has said will help ensure patients "get the care that they need".

But the latest figures are evidence that the prime minister is not closing in on his key pledge to cut waiting lists. In January, he said "lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly".

Labour has branded the prime minister "Inaction Man" over his refusal "to meet with doctors to end NHS strikes".

Growing waiting lists

Data released by NHS England, on Thursday, showed that the number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment is now at its highest point, since records began in August 2007.

Other key takeaways include:

  • Some 7,289 people are estimated to have been waiting more than 18 months to begin treatment at the end of July - up from 7,177 at the end of June.

  • An estimated 389,952 people had been waiting more than 52 weeks for their care to start at the end of the same month - compared with June, this is up from 383,083.

  • In an update on waiting times for cancer patients, the data showed that although the number of urgent referrals made by GPs was marginally up, the amount who saw a specialist within two weeks had in fact fell by 3% to 77.5%.

  • NHS England had set itself a target of 93% of patients receiving a specialist appointment in two weeks, but it is one of several targets the government has jointly agreed to scrap from October to streamline performance standards.

  • The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England from a decision to admit to actually being admitted was 28,859 in August - an increase of 21% from 23,934 the previous month.

  • And average response times for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents - defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries - fell by four seconds to eight minutes and 17 seconds. However, this is still above the target standard response time of seven minutes.

'Winter resilience' fund

Department of Health and Social Care officials said a £200 million "winter resilience" fund, which was made public on Thursday, will help ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible.

Officials said the money will also help hospitals keep up with pre-planned surgeries and operations to cut down the record waiting list.

But health commentators have questioned how far the money will go amid ongoing strikes by doctors.

Last winter was branded as one of the worst on record for the NHS and hospital bosses have been planning for months to prevent the same happening this winter.

Speaking to broadcasters, the prime minister insisted his government is "delivering for patients with big improvements in ambulance times and A&E times".

Rishi Sunak has insisted he is 'delivering for patients with big improvements in ambulance times and A&E times'

He said: "Well winter's always a challenging time for the NHS and this year we've started planning for winter earlier than ever before.

"Today, we're announcing £200 million which will go to the NHS to help build extra capacity and resilience for this winter season, making sure that patients can get the care that they need, but also ensure that we can continue to protect planned elective care because that's important too."

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, however, hit out at the prime minister, saying: "For millions of patients across England, the NHS is no longer there for them when they need it."

He added: "It will take the party of the NHS to pull it out of this crisis and restore it to good health.

"Labour will train thousands more staff and reform the health service, so it is there for us when we need it once again."

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