National Health Service England waiting list at highest on record for second consecutive month

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

Sign indicating an NHS vaccination centre in Attleborough, Norfolk, England on April 25, 2021.
Image: User:Sebastiandoe5.

The number of patients in England waiting for treatment by the National Health Service reached 5.3 million in May, data Thursday indicated, the highest since records began in April 2007 for the second consecutive month.

Those on the health institute's waiting list increased by over 600 thousand in the past three months. However, the average wait time of just under eleven weeks has been steadily declining since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which drove total admissions to hospital down, according to The Guardian.

Total admissions for surgery and normal treatment have increased fourfold to nearly pre-pandemic levels from 54,550 last year to 242,064 in May, according to Sky News. In May 2019, there were 295,881 admissions for routine treatment.

The rise in demand is primarily due to a surge in non-COVID-related admissions: over two million people visited the accident and emergency department (A&E) last month, for example, in the busiest ever June. A blog post published Wednesday by the NHS Confederation warned increasing demand in urgent, non-COVID-related healthcare in both children and adults are "putting severe and unprecedented strain on the urgent care system, with unsustainable numbers of people now visiting A&E, seeing their GPs [general practitioners] and calling ambulances."

Wait times are trending downward, according to Sky News. Between April and May, the number of people waiting over 52 weeks for treatment fell by 50 thousand, though still thirteen times higher than last year. Patients waiting over eighteen weeks dropped by 83 thousand in the same time, "for the first time this year", according to NHS medical director Stephen Powis. However, the percent of those who received treatment within eighteen weeks, 67%, remained below the NHS standard of 92%, according to The Guardian.

The average wait time for elective care of 10.8 weeks was down 29% from May last year, according to the NHS Confederation's chief executive Matthew Taylor. In a blog post on the organisation's web site he remarked the "treatment backlog of 5.3 million patients" nonetheless "show[s] that while waiting lists are still rising, more people are coming forward for care, which is encouraging, as this is exactly what the NHS is there for."

Taylor went on to say "our urgent care system [is] running a winter-like service in the middle of summer", adding "we must go into this next phase with our eyes wide open, and acknowledge much of the care the NHS can provide to patients is likely to be disrupted further, including in the community."

The Guardian reported other issues, including that nearly 25% of patients in A&E waited over four hours to be seen. Only 75% of cancer patients were seen within two weeks of cancer screening, below a target of 90%, or a GP's urgent referral, below a target of 85%. An October analysis by Macmillan Cancer Support estimates from the year before, 50 thousand fewer people were diagnosed with cancer, a backlog it warned could grow by four thousand missed diagnoses per month to over 100 thousand this October, and urgent referral activity in England for August was 11% behind 2019 levels.

The NHS has said it budgeted one billion GBP on restoring services and clearing the waiting list, according to The Guardian.

32,551 new COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom were reported on Thursday and another 35 attributable deaths, according to Sky News, up over four thousand from the week before, and the highest since the week of January 27 . This comes after health minister Sajid Javid said cases of COVID "could go as high as 100,000" ahead of the expected lifting of all remaining lockdown restrictions on July 19, dubbed "Freedom Day", as reported by Sky News and The Guardian.