• NHS England admits elective waiting list could be as high 3.7m people
  • Service appears to have breached 92 per cent waiting time target for 2015-16
  • March saw highest number of patients waiting more than a year since December 2012

The number of patients waiting for an elective procedure could be as high as 3.7m, NHS England estimates – the highest level since 2007.

Official figures released on Thursday morning said the confirmed total was 3.5m but when trusts that were unable to report their waiting times data were factored in the total was higher than at any time since December 2007.

The NHS also appears to have breached the main performance target – that 92 per cent of patients on a waiting list should not have waited more than 18 weeks.

The data shows overall NHS performance as 92.5 per cent for 2015-16 – down from 93.5 per cent the previous year – with official breaches in March and December. Waiting times consultant and HSJ columnist Rob Findlay estimated that the overall target was breached in February as well. When data from the missing seven trusts and their last reported positions is taken into account it appears national performance is 91.9 per cent.

The number of people waiting more than a year for treatment in March was higher that at any time since December 2012, 865 people, the numbers creeping up after a concerted effort to treat long waiters in the opening months of 2012-13.

HSJ revealed earlier this year that large numbers of patients at trusts that were not reporting waiting times data had been waiting more than a year.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “New figures showing failures to meet key NHS targets have now become almost a monthly routine. The scale and length of this decline in performance show that we are looking at a systemic issue, rather than failings in a few hospitals or particular services.

“With great effort being put into new transformation plans this month, the NHS is supposed to be accelerating a process of radical change, finding alternatives to increasing the amount of hospital treatment. Yet these figures suggest we are going in the opposite direction, fast.”

Commenting on NHS trust performance generally, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “When we run the NHS at capacity levels that no other advanced health system would even contemplate, it’s not surprising that large increases in demand lead to missed performance targets.

“Providers are finding it increasingly difficult to treat patients and get them back into their homes or into community care due to rising numbers of patients attending A&E, inadequate social care provision, and an unprecedented slowdown in funding. Patients are waiting longer for non-emergency care as beds are increasingly being filled with patients who are ready to go home but have nowhere to go.”

In March Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals recorded the worst RTT performance in the country with a performance of 73 per cent.

NHS Improvement had not repsonded to HSJ in time for publication.

Worst A&E performance since targets began