NHS waiting list for hospital treatment in England hits new high
The waiting list for hospital treatment in England has hit a new high - as did waits for ward beds for those admitted from A&E. The latest NHS England figures show that there were 6.36 million people awaiting routine care, such as hip and knee operations at the end of March.
The number is the highest on record, and continues the trend of rising numbers joining the waiting list. There is also now a record number waiting more than the target time of 18 weeks - while 92% of patients should wait less time than this, but currently it's just 62.4%.
The Government has set a series of targets to eliminate long waits for treatment, including having no one waiting more than two years by the end of July. In March, the number waiting this long fell from 23,281 to 16,796.
The number waiting more than 18 months also fell over the same period, from 68,493 to 62,754. The Government has pledged to eliminate these waits by April 2023.
However, the rate at which those waiting more than two years are being treated may have slowed. Separate figures for acute hospital trusts only show while the number of patients in that group dropped by 5,112 between the end of February and the end March, the drop between the week ending April 3 and the week ending May 1 was 3,251.
With 11,724 patients waiting as of May 1, a monthly decrease of around 3,200 would make it difficult to hit the target to eliminate these waits if it continued.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: “Today’s figures show our hardworking teams across the NHS are making good progress in tackling the backlogs that have built up with record numbers of diagnostic tests and cancer checks taking place in March, as part of the most ambitious catch up plan in NHS history.
“We always knew the waiting list would initially continue to grow as more people come forward for care who may have held off during the pandemic, but today’s data show the number of people waiting more than two years has fallen for the second month in a row, and the number waiting more than 18 months has gone down for the first time.
“There is no doubt the NHS still faces pressures, and the latest figures are another reminder of the crucial importance of community and social care, in helping people in hospital leave when they are fit to do so, not just because it is better for them but because it helps free up precious NHS bed space.”
Figures for A&Es and ambulance services show both were under continuing pressure in April. The average wait for the highest priority ambulances in England was nine minutes and two seconds - two minutes longer than the target of an average response within seven minutes - although it was down from nine minutes and 35 seconds in March.
While A&Es were also slightly less busy than in March, with 2.02 million visits down from 2.17 million, people still faced long waits, with just 72.3% admitted, discharged of transferred within four hours. Those admitted faced long waits for ward beds, as a record 24,138 waited more than 12 hours.
This is likely to be because bed availability continues to be tight, with 94% of adult general & acute beds occupied in April. This comes as today’s data also shows during April almost 12,589 beds were taken up on average each day by patients who no longer needed to be in hospital due to pressures in places including social care.
That number compares to an average of 12,119 beds per day on average in March, 12,025 in February, 12,201 in January, and 10,295 in December. This suggests a continuing and potentially worsening problem with hospitals struggling to discharge patients who are otherwise ready to go home.