The number of children waiting for NHS hospital appointments has reached an all time high, the latest NHS figures show.
There are currently 403,955 children waiting for consultant-led care, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned.
Of those almost 18,000 have been waiting for more than a year for essential treatment, the figures show.
The College warned that while there has been considerable progress made in shrinking the adult backlog, the children’s list ‘continues to rise at an unprecedented rate’, with children not being prioritised.
And the data does not capture the full scale of the problem, the RCPCH said, with hidden and growing waiting times for community care.
Long waits in children are of particular concern, given many treatments and interventions must be administered within specific age or developmental stages, a statement from the College said.
It called on the Government to children to set aside ringfenced funding for children’s service recovery at all the community, elective, and urgent care level as well as publishing a fully-costed NHS workforce plan immediately.
The figures come as NHS England said the number of patients waiting more than 18 months fell to just 10,737 by April – down by more than 90% from 124,911 in September 2021 and by more than four-fifths since the start of January when there were 54,882.
RCPCH president Dr Camilla Kingdon said: ‘It is a national scandal that over 400,000 children are stuck in limbo on a list, waiting for treatment.
‘These children could fill Wembley stadium four times over. NHS England has a zero-tolerance policy for 52-week waits, so it is deeply concerning that these targets are being missed.
‘The clear regional variation in size of waiting lists, also means that this is an equity issue for children and their families. Child health teams are working tirelessly to address the growing backlogs, but without proper support, their efforts are unable to make a meaningful dent in the problem.’
She added that children were left behind again in health policy and the wider political agenda.
‘While there has been considerable progress in reducing wait times for adult treatment in recent months, children’s waiting lists continue to grow.
‘The recent focus on adult service recovery through the elective recovery plan has further deprioritized children’s health in national and local policies, raising alarming questions about the commitment to children’s well-being.’
RCPCH officer for health services, Dr Ronny Cheung added: ‘It’s clear now that the voices of children are not being heard. It seems that the focus in the lead up to the next election is primarily on voting-aged adult issues.
‘Lengthy waits are unacceptable for any patient but for children and young people the waits can be catastrophic, as many treatments need to be given by a specific age or developmental stage.
‘In recent months we’ve heard about children missing school, quitting sports, and missing out on the important aspects of a healthy, happy childhood. This is not a trivial matter.’
Meanwhile, statistics published today by NHS England showed that the overall elective waiting list has grown to a record high, with 7.3m people now waiting for treatment.