• More than 3,000 waiting over a year for elective treatment at the end of March
  • Number of year-long waiters doubled from February and is nearly triple the same period in 2019
  • Another 7,364 patients were at risk of going over the 52 weeks since routine work suspended in mid-April
  • New data also shows lowest performance against 18-week target since June 2008

More than 10,000 patients may be waiting more than a year for elective treatment as a result of covid-19, official data suggests.

Figures published today by NHS England show that at the end of March 7,364 patients had been waiting 48-52 weeks for treatment. On 17 March Sir Simon Stevens ordered all “non-urgent elective operations” to be suspended for three months, starting no later than 15 April.

Some patients may have received routine treatment during the 48-52 week period despite the NHS England instruction, or been transferred to the private sector, which has been carrying out cancer and urgent work.

But the numbers provide an early indication of how covid-19 has affected elective procedures across the health service. They suggest that, on top of the 3,097 patients already waiting more than a year at the end of March, the number of year-plus waiters is likely to pass 10,000, as restrictions on elective care continue.

The year-plus waiters increased by more than 1,400 from the end of February, and was more than double the amount in March 2019. It is also the highest number of 52-week waiters since September 2018.

One consultant specialising in elective waiting times told HSJ: “Next to nothing has been treated privately or in NHS capacity. The non admitted element of it in particular is open to patients taking themselves off the list due to fear of covid. But that’s very hard to predict yet from one month of data.”

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards today told a Parliamentary committee the overall elective waiting list may have doubled in size to more than 8 million by autumn due to the restrictions.

Of the 10 hospital trusts with the highest number of patients waiting between 48-52 weeks, eight were large providers with big lists, but two were significantly smaller.

North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust and Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust had 168 and 217 respectively. The trusts have been asked for comment.

The data showed the lowest national performance against the target of 92 per cent of patients being treated within 18 weeks since June 2008, with trusts recording a performance of 79.7 per cent.

Many providers had already begun to reduce or suspend electives in March as the lockdown was introduced. Following this, non-emergency elective procedures were suspended nationwide on 15 April.

At the end of April Sir Simon Stevens wrote to NHS chief executives urging a cautious return to elective work, although leaders have expressed concern about doing so in the absence of rapid testing.

A spokesperson for the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which represents private healthcare providers nationally, said: “Our members have been delivering a significant amount of urgent NHS elective care, particularly cancer care, but as per the directive from NHS England, from mid-April, routine elective procedures have been suspended in all providers.”

The Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Providers were approached for comment.