Number of people on NHS waiting lists in England at record high | NHS

The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to the highest level since records began 15 years ago, with A&E and ambulance waits also soaring amid high Covid rates, staff shortages and increased demand.

NHS data shows 6.2 million people are waiting to start treatment, the highest number since records began in August 2007.

Of these, 23,281 have been waiting more than two years. NHS England said this was down from 23,778 at the end of January, but it is about nine times the 2,608 people who had been waiting this long in April 2021.

Ministers have promised to eliminate all waits of more than two years by July. But doctors, NHS leaders and health experts say the target looks increasingly unachievable. On Wednesday the Guardian revealed that operations were being canceled across England as Covid causes major disruption in the NHS.

The NHS is under severe pressure caused by a combination of unprecedented demand for urgent and emergency care, tens of thousands of Covid-related staff absences, high numbers of people in hospital with Covid, and delays in discharging patients as Covid and workforce gaps hit social care services.

Thursday’s figures show the extent of the crisis. The proportion of people waiting more than four hours at A&E departments rose to its highest ever level in March. Just over 28% of people waited at least four hours across all A&Es, while in type 1 A&Es – those at major hospitals – the rate was 41%. There were more than 2.1 million attendances at A&Es in March, up 28.5% on March 2021.

A record 22,506 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E in March from a decision to admit to actually being admitted. That was up from 16,404 in February, and is the highest for any calendar month in records going back to August 2010.

“Today’s data highlight the extreme pressure on NHS patients and staff, with millions of people feeling the negative effects of a health system struggling under unbearable strain,” said Hugh Alderwick, the director of policy at the Health Foundation.

Danielle Jefferies, an analyst at the King’s Fund health thinktank, said that despite a recent focus from the government on tackling the backlog, the data showed “pressures now reaching unacceptable levels in all parts of the health and care system”.

The average response time last month for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents – calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and 35 seconds. This was up from eight minutes and 51 seconds in February and is the longest average since current records began in August 2017.

Ambulances in England took an average of one hour, one minute and three seconds last month to respond to emergency calls, such as for burns, epilepsy and strokes. This was up from 42 minutes and seven seconds in February and is the longest time on record for this category of callouts.

Dr Tim Cooksley, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said it was “deeply concerning” that the “inability to even come close to meeting performance targets has now come to be expected” every month. “There is not a chance of a recovery of elective care until the systemic problems beleaguering urgent and emergency care are sorted effectively and long term,” he said.

Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS England national medical director, said: “Nobody should be under any illusion about how tough a job NHS staff have on their hands, balancing competing priorities and maintaining high-quality patient care.”

Despite pressure on multiple fronts, the longest waits for patients were falling, he added, and staff were working hard to adopt innovative approaches to help patients get treated faster.

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