There were fewer elective patients treated in January compared to the previous year, according to the latest data from NHS England.

In a sign that demand on accident and emergency departments affected elective care, 303,153 admitted patients began treatment in January, compared to 328,715 in the same month last year.

Providers were forced to cancel 7,696 elective operations during January as A&E departments declared “major incidents’” due to the pressure on staff and beds.

Older woman in hospital bed

The number of patients waiting over 18 weeks for treatment has continued to rise

This was a 71 per cent increase on cancellations compared to January 2014.

Providers also missed the target to start treatment for 90 per cent of admitted patients within 18 weeks. Only 88.7 per cent of patients began treatment within this time.

The non-admitted target was also narrowly breached, with 94.9 per cent of outpatients starting treatment within 18 weeks.

An amnesty on breaches was introduced between July and December to encourage trusts to treat the longest waiting patients.

This was supposed to end in December. However, Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England wrote to trusts in February to reimpose the amnesty to encourage trusts to keep bringing down the longest waiting patients.

The number of patients waiting over 18 weeks for treatment has continued to rise, despite concerted efforts to treat long waiters.

There were 216,791 patients waiting over 18 weeks to start treatment in January, compared to 189,612 in the same month last year.

The overall waiting list also remains stubbornly above the 3 million mark. The official figure was 2.9 million, but did not include eight trusts that failed to report their waiting lists. NHS England estimates the total waiting list would be 3.1 million including those trusts.

There were 441 patients waiting over a year to start treatment in January.

North Bristol Trust was responsible for 222 of these patients.

HSJ recently reported that North Bristol had 201 patients waiting for orthopaedic treatment despite the trust taking the decision in October to block referrals for spinal surgery while it attempted to clear the backlog.

Royal Berkshire Foundation Trust had 58 patients waiting over a year for treatment in January.

Monitor, NHS England and the TDA wrote to trusts in February to urge them to contact patients waiting over 12 weeks to remind them they could be treated elsewhere.

The tripartite has been trying to encourage increased use of the private sector to help clear backlogs. While private providers are being used more frequently, some trust sources say they do not have the private sector capacity in their area to take on the extra work.