• Nearly quarter of a million people waiting more than a year, leaked data shows
  • Almost 200 patients have waited more than two years

Nearly a quarter of a million people have been waiting more than a year for operations and other hospital procedures, HSJ has learned. 

Official NHS England data for November, released on Thursday, showed 192,000 patients had been waiting for treatment for more than a year.

However, figures leaked to HSJ of weekly data up to 3 January showed a steep increase to 223,000 patients — the highest reported so far throughout the covid-19 pandemic and before.

According to the leak, just under 4.2 million people are waiting for treatment, of which year-long waiters comprise 5.4 per cent. The data also showed 175 patients across England had waited more than two years for treatment.

In February, before the pandemic, 1,613 patients were waiting more than a year — meaning there has been a 138-fold increase.

The leaked figures revealed the number of year-long waiters increased by 24 per cent in December in both the North East and Yorkshire, and the Midlands. The list has grown by 21 per cent in the North West. 

The worst-hit sustainability and transformation partnerships/integrated care systems were South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent, and the Black Country and West Birmingham, which had increases of 41, 33.3 and 33 per cent to their 52-week waiters in December respectively.

Patients waiting a year or longer more than doubled last month at three trusts — Walsall Healthcare Trust, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust, and North Tees and Hartlepool FT. Meanwhile, 15.8 per cent of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust’s 60,700 waiters have now been on the list for a year or more.

All the trusts have been asked for comment.

‘A stark reminder’

NHSE medical director Stephen Powis called the official November data “a stark reminder that the NHS is facing an exceptionally tough challenge, and that while still millions of people are getting care for non-covid health problems in the NHS in England, there is no doubt that services will continue to be under additional pressure until and unless this virus is under control.”

Total admitted patients on electives has grown steadily since the April low of 41,000 patients, reaching 232,000 in October. However, as restrictions from covid admissions took hold, in November this fell 223,000.

John Bennett, a senior adviser on waiting times, said: “NHS England will clearly be working on a coordinated clinically led capacity and demand profile for the next 12-24 months.

“This will need to incorporate not only the impact of covid on NHS staff and facilities, it will need to balance cancer, referral to treatment demand and the non-RTT backlog which is currently not reported.

“More fundamental solutions should be considered. A long-term investment and capacity agreement with the independent sector, the potential to change the constitutional standards and perhaps the development of self-pay incentives for employers and citizens. More of the same will not be enough.”

The Nuffield Trust said the official November data showed the NHS was “working in a time unlike anything in its history”.

Deputy director of research Sarah Scobie said: “We know there is yet worse to come. Hospitals have substantially more covid-19 patients in hospital than the first wave’s peak (almost 50 per more), with even urgent cancer operations postponed in the hardest-hit areas.

“If we do not begin to see case numbers tumble, there is a risk our health service could become a national covid service for weeks to come.”