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Longest waits cut but overall elective waiting list reaches new record high

Longest waits cut but overall elective waiting list grows to new record high

The NHS has cut the number of people waiting more than two years for elective care but the overall waiting list has continued to grow to record levels, the latest figures show.

There are now no patients waiting more than 104 weeks at 40 trusts in England and as of the week ending 5 June, there has been a 66% drop in those who have spent more than two years on the waiting list which now stands at 7,533.

Yet the new figures published today also show there are now 6.5 million patients on the waiting list to start treatment with only 61.7% being seen within 18 weeks, well below the 92% target.

This has grown once more compared with last month when figures showed that the elective waiting list had hit a new record high of 6.4 million patients.

During April 2022 – the most recent published dataset – almost 1.5 million patients were referred for treatment.

The number of people waiting for a diagnostic test fell from 1.57 million to 1.55 million in April but median waits increased from 3.1 to 3.5 weeks, the figures showed.

Those waiting six weeks or more for a diagnostic test had also increased from 389,855 to 439,306 in April, according to the data.

NHS England said it comes as emergency services saw the busiest ever month with the second highest ever number of A&E attendances at 2.2 million, the busiest ever May for 999 calls and the most category 1 ambulance call-outs.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: ‘The new figures show our hard-working NHS staff are making significant progress in ensuring people waiting the longest time for care are getting treated.

He added: ‘There is no doubt the NHS still faces pressures – including a renewed increase in Covid patients – and the latest figures show just how important community and social care are in helping people in hospital leave when they are fit to do so, not just because it is better for patients but because it helps free up precious NHS bed space.’

Speaking at NHS Confed Expo this week, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard told delegates that the pressures on emergency departments and ambulance services are currently as challenging as any winter before the pandemic.

And Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation said: ‘Today’s data underlines the huge pressure the NHS is under and show that there is still a long road ahead for the NHS in tackling the backlog in routine hospital care. 

‘It is good to see the number of patients waiting over two years is falling but the overall picture is still troubling. The waiting list for routine hospital care has reached a record high of 6.5 million, of which over 323,000 patients have waited over a year and the wider pressures on the health service show few signs of easing.’

Mr Gardner added that progress was being held back by longstanding staff shortages across health and social care.

He said: ‘The NHS is going to huge efforts to clear the backlog but until the Government comes forward with a fully-funded workforce plan, efforts to bring down waiting lists will continue to be undermined.’

In February, the Government set out its long-awaited elective recovery plan that stressed that GPs’ role in tackling the NHS hospital backlog will focus on the use of A&G to try to avoid ‘unnecessary’ referrals to secondary care.

But Government auditors have warned against ‘overloading’ GPs in clearing the elective backlog and the Public Accounts Committee has said that even if the NHS meets its targets for elective care, one million more patients will be on the waiting list posing a ‘huge risk’ to primary care.