The NHS waiting list in England has increased once again to another record with 7.77 million people now on the list.
For the first time, NHS England revealed there are 6.5 million individual patients on the waiting list, meaning more than one million people are waiting for more than one treatment or procedure.
It was at 4.4 million before the pandemic hit in February 2020.
It is likely the waiting list will be surpass 8.0 million people by August next year, according to the Health Foundation, which also noted that stikes accounted for a very small proportion of the growing backlog.
“Ministers have been quick to blame industrial action for the lack of progress in reducing the waiting list but the roots of this crisis lie in a decade of underinvestment in the NHS, a failure to address chronic staff shortages and the longstanding neglect of social care,“ the body said.
However, the NHS said today it is treating more people than before the pandemic, with 25,256 more elective appointments and procedures carried out in September compared with the same month in 2019.
It said this was despite the first joint strike action in NHS history by junior doctors and consultants, which saw 129,913 appointments rescheduled.
There was some improvement in reducing long waits for patients with year-long waits down by 5,500 in September to 391,122, and waits of more than 65 weeks have more than halved to 109,138 since peaking 233,051 in June 2021.
Waits of over one year are now down to 5% of the waiting list, the NHS added.
Strain is building
Brett Hill, head of health and protection at Broadstone, said: “With every passing month, the strain on the NHS is building with the growing backlog pushing the public health service to breaking point.
“It is an ominous sign of the winter pressures to come where NHS performance typically struggles amid the cold, wet weather, and with energy costs showing little sign of letting up health chiefs should be preparing for another difficult period.
“It is evident now that employers are responding rapidly to protect their staff from the worst of the current health problems. Investing in early warning systems such as screening programmes and digital GP services can help employees catch health issues earlier, speeding up diagnoses and treatment.”
“Difficulties in accessing NHS treatment are driving higher claims on health insurance policies, yet while this places upwards pressures on premiums, CEOs also recognise the tangible benefit and return on investment that these schemes offer which is reflected in the record levels of insured private health admissions we are now seeing.”
Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said: “Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the ongoing pressures the NHS is facing, particularly in emergency care with significant demand for ambulances and A&E, as we head into what we are expecting to be another challenging winter in the health service.
“Despite these ongoing pressures, including 10 months of strikes, the NHS has made progress on its three recovery plans, and it is important to recognise the incredible efforts of staff who are seeing and treating many more people than pre-pandemic – delivering record numbers of diagnostic tests and checks, treating more people for cancer at an earlier stage, and completing thousands more routine procedures.“