The number of people waiting to start NHS treatment in England has hit 6.6 million – rising by another 100,000 in a single month, according to official data.
The latest data shows the number of patients awaiting the start of treatment at the end of May was up from 6.5 million at the end of the previous month.
Of those, 331,623 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks and 8,028 patients were waiting more than 104 weeks.
For patients waiting to start treatment at the end of May, the median waiting time was 12.7 weeks, up from 12.6 weeks at the end of April.
However, the latest weekly management information on the number waiting more than two years at the end of June (3,548) shows a decrease compared to the end of May (7,533).
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), said: “With NHS waiting lists at another record of 6.6 million it is clear that whoever becomes prime minister in September must make busting the NHS backlog one of their first priorities in office.
“The backlog is now not only a health crisis but increasingly an economic one given that over half of all people waiting for NHS treatment are of working age.
“The independent sector is a vital tool in the NHS’ armoury to increase activity and drive down patient waiting times, however analysis continues to show that in the vast majority of specialties the NHS is currently using the independent sector less than pre-pandemic, despite patients waiting ever longer for treatment.
“Bringing down waiting times is the public’s number one priority for the NHS and we need urgent action to ensure 2022 does not become a lost year in which NHS waiting lists keep growing while independent sector capacity goes unused.”
Danielle Jefferies, policy analyst at The King’s Fund, said the figures reveal a health and care system in a “state of steady crisis”, with waiting times for care continuing to surge to unprecedented levels.
“The new government faces some difficult decisions and will need to be honest with the public about the standards of care they can expect,” Jefferies said.
“Thanks to the huge efforts of NHS staff, significant progress has been made in reducing the number of people facing waits of two years or more for planned hospital treatment. But the overall waiting list has continued to grow to 6.6 million people and the number of people waiting more than a year is also rising.”
Jefferies also noted that the latest data showed 12,400 patients were stuck in hospital every day despite being well enough to be discharged, in part due to overwhelming pressure on social care services.
“Delayed discharges use up beds that are desperately needed for people who need to be admitted to hospital and may put patients at risk,” she continued.
“In June over 22,000 people waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital from A&E – a 17% increase on last month. Ambulance service response times are also going back in the wrong direction, with patients waiting 50 minutes for an ambulance when they should be waiting no longer than 18 minutes.
“The huge mismatch between capacity and demand in NHS hospitals shows no sign of letting up and rising Covid infections will only exacerbate shortages of staff.”
And jeffries concluded by laying the responsibility for improvements at the Conservative government.
“The NHS has shown in the past that it can deliver rapid improvements to waiting times and patient care when it is has sufficient capacity,” she said.
“The additional funding from the health and care levy will be vital to helping the NHS continue to make progress on the backlog. But the lack of a fully funded workforce plan undermines ambitions for a better, and more efficient health and care system.”