The number of people in line for elective hospital procedures in England has grown once again to nearly 6.5 million, official data shows.
The latest figures put the total waiting list for these planned treatments — anything from hip replacement to cataract surgery — at 6.48 million in April: an increase of 120,000 on March.
Before the pandemic, this number stood at around 4.4 million. But it had already been rising steadily for around a decade.
The number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment — the longest time public hospital patients are meant to wait for these procedures — has also risen by around 95,000.
However, there are some signs of improvement for patients waiting extremely long periods for treatment. The number of people waiting two years or more has dropped by around 4,000, from around 16,800 to 12,700.
Before the pandemic, it was rare for patients to wait more than a year for elective treatment. But Covid-19 has put a massive strain on elective care, with hospitals forced to cancel and delay procedures during periods of intense pressure.
These improvements reflect significant efforts by hospitals to see the very longest waiters as soon as possible. Since hitting a peak of nearly 23,800 in January, the number of people waiting two years or more has dropped by almost 10,000.
Shot of a waiting room in medical clinic full of patients. In the background, a woman doctor is … [+] talking to a young man. An older man doctor is walking by.
Responding to the latest data, chief executive of industry group NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, said: “The hard work is paying off… and it’s a testament to the relentless efforts of staff across the NHS that this has been achieved. But they know there is more to do.”
Leaders want to eliminate two year waits by July – but with an emergency care crisis unfolding in parallel and covid admissions once again starting to rise, there’s no guarantee this goal will be met.
Any measures to address these pressures, Taylor argued, must include salary hikes for the lowest-paid workers. “The NHS is full of committed staff and leaders but they cannot work miracles,” he said.
“There is a capacity gap across financial resilience, capital investment and workforce which needs urgent attention from the Government.
“System working, innovation and collaboration alone will not be able to meet the scale of the challenge currently facing the health service.”