The national diagnostic waiting list has grown by more than half in five years, in a further sign of growing demand on hospital services.

In March 2011 there were 557,449 patients waiting for diagnostic tests. This has jumped to 842,269 in March, according to the latest data published this week by NHS England.

Despite this increased activity, hospitals and private treatment centres have managed to almost keep pace with demand.

CT scan

CT scans have seen the biggest increase in demand, according to the latest NHS England data

NHS England said in the standard contract only 1 per cent of patients should be waiting longer than six weeks for diagnostic tests. In 2011 1.9 per cent of patients were waiting over six weeks, but this dropped to 1.5 per cent in 2015 (13,000 patients waiting) despite the increased activity.

CT scans have seen the biggest increase in demand. There were 62,824 patients on the waiting list in 2011 and this went up to 104,809 in this March – a 66.8 per cent increase.

Some trusts’ performance was far worse than the 1 per cent target.

Leicestershire Partnership Trust had 16.9 per cent of its patients waiting over six weeks for a test in March. Helen Thompson, the trust’s divisional director of families, young people and children’s services, said the delays were due to unplanned staff sickness and “natural turnover of staff” within the diagnostics team.

She added that the trust is working with neighbouring partners to provide more weekday and weekend appointments, and has recruited two extra members of staff.

George Eliot Hospital Trust had 10.7 per cent of patients waiting over six weeks in March. The trust had 61 per cent of patients waiting over six weeks for a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a bowel screening test. The trust had not provided comment by the time of publication.

Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Foundation Trust had 8.8 per cent of patients waiting over six weeks. A trust spokeswoman said it had experienced increasing referral rates for endoscopy procedures “putting pressure on capacity within the endoscopy department”.

She added: “The trust is working closely with the local [clinical commissioning groups] on looking at ways to manage overall demand and at using a third party provider to provide additional capacity.”