NHS backlog hits record 7.7million high sparking fears of 'bleak' winter

The number of people waiting for hospital treatments has hit another record time, ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports from Basingstoke Hospital

There are some 7.77 million people waiting for treatments on the NHS, as waiting lists in England hit a record high.

New figures show more than a million patients are on more than one waiting list, with officials saying the number of people actually waiting is 6.5 million.

The overall waiting list at the end of September is up from 7.75 million at the end of August, according to NHS England data.

The overall waiting list is at its highest point since records began in August 2007 and comes despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying cutting waiting lists is one of his priorities.

Health commentators warned the performance figures could mean the NHS is facing a “bleak” winter.

Professor Vivien Lees, from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Winter pressures have already started to affect the system.

“We are concerned that with increased demand, record staff vacancies and industrial action, this will all continue to hold back recovery efforts.”

Danielle Jefferies, senior analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “This winter will be bleak for the NHS, particularly if we see high levels of flu and Covid-19 in the coming weeks.”

The figures come after it emerged that hospitals in England will be allowed to cut back on some pre-planned care to cover the costs of strikes in the NHS.

The unprecedented industrial action which has beset the NHS since December last year has led to a bill of more than £1 billion for the health service in England.

But it is understood only four fifths of the cost will be footed through various sources and one measure proposed to balance the books is cutting back on pre-planned care.

Meanwhile the new NHS performance figures data also shows that some 10,201 people in England were estimated to have been waiting more than 18 months to start routine hospital treatment at the end of September, up from 8,998 at the end of August.

The Government and NHS England set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April this year, excluding exceptionally complex cases or patients who choose to wait longer.

But the number of people waiting for more than a year has reduced.

A total of 391,122 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of September, down from 396,643 at the end of August.

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

The overall waiting list hit a new high of 7.77 million at the end of September Credit: PA

The figures also show a number of key cancer targets were not met in September.

Some 74% of suspected cancer patients saw a specialist within two weeks of being referred urgently by their GP, down from 74.8% in August and remaining below the target of 93%.

And only 59.3% of cancer patients who had their first treatment in September after an urgent GP referral had waited less than two months, down from 62.8% in August. The target is 85%.

Meanwhile the figures also show that 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 44,655 in October, up 35% from 33,059 in September.

The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission has also increased, from 125,787 in September to 144,926 in October.

Some 70.2% of patients in England were seen within four hours in A&Es last month, down from 71.6% in September.

The NHS recovery plan sets a target of March 2024 for 76% of patients attending A&E to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

NHS England said major A&E services had the busiest October on record as 2.2 million people attended accident and emergency departments.

It said ambulance services also saw the busiest month of the year so far.

The average response time in October for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was eight minutes and 40 seconds, NHS figures show.

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This is up from eight minutes and 31 seconds in September and is above the target standard response time of seven minutes.

Ambulances took an average of 41 minutes and 40 seconds last month to respond to emergency calls such as heart attacks, strokes and sepsis.

This is up from 37 minutes and 38 seconds in September, while the target is 18 minutes.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the ongoing pressures the NHS is facing, particularly in emergency care with significant demand for ambulances and A&E, as we head into what we are expecting to be another challenging winter in the health service.

Sir Stephen Powis said the true impact of the strikes were even higher than the figures show. Credit: PA

“Despite these ongoing pressures, including 10 months of strikes, the NHS has made progress on its three recovery plans, and it is important to recognise the incredible efforts of staff who are seeing and treating many more people than pre-pandemic.

“But these strikes have had a significant impact on patients and staff, and created unavoidable financial costs – this is why we have set out actions for local areas to take to protect patient safety, and prioritise urgent and emergency services so that patients receive the best possible care this winter, while the primary focus for elective activity should be on long waits and patients with urgent care and cancer needs.”