NHS running red hot – warning ahead of winter as waiting list hits 7.75m

NHS running red hot – warning ahead of winter as waiting list hits 7.75m

Jeremy Vine caller waiting five months for NHS appointment

The NHS is “running red hot” ahead of winter, experts have warned after the waiting list for planned treatment hit a record 7.75 million.

Data for August showed the total included almost 400,000 people who had been in the queue for over a year.

Meanwhile, A&E delays were rising. In September, more than 33,000 people waited more than 12 hours in emergency departments from a decision to admit to actual admission. This was up from 28,859 in August and 23,934 in July.

Ambulance response times had also increased month-on-month. Crews took an average of eight minutes and 31 seconds to reach life-threatening incidents, and 37 minutes and 38 seconds to reach emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund health think tank, said more people were now stuck in queues for routine care despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cut waiting lists.

He added: “Today’s statistics show the NHS is running red hot as it enters the busy winter period.

“A&E departments have had a busy summer and are now facing a punishing winter, and the time taken for an ambulance to reach those people facing an emergency, such as for strokes, is now more than double the target of 18 minutes.

“And pressures on mental health care and cancer services show that there are few areas of patient care that are unscathed by workforce shortages and rising demand.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospital trusts were concerned about the long-term health effects of patients languishing on waiting lists.

He added: “With health services working flat out under extreme pressure and demand outstripping capacity now, winter threatens to leave the NHS feeling the heat.

“The NHS needs more beds, more staff and more up-to-date equipment and facilities to give patients first-class care. That requires proper long-term government funding and support. If ministers want to see shorter waiting lists – one of the government’s priorities – these issues must be tackled.”

Professor Peter Friend, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, warned that increased demand, staff vacancies and strikes were holding back recovery efforts.

He said: “The Prime Minister’s key pledge of reducing the size of the waiting list by March 2024 is looking more and more in doubt.

“The Government must continue to fund surgical hubs in areas that are struggling to bring down long waits for operations.”

The British Heart Foundation said there had been a 17 percent rise in the number of patients waiting for cardiac care since August 2022 – equivalent to 60,400 people or the capacity of London’s Olympic Stadium.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the charity’s associate medical director and a consultant cardiologist, said: “It never fails to shock me that with each month and each year, we continue to see record-breaking numbers of people waiting far too long for heart care.

“Long waits for time-sensitive heart care are dangerous – they increase the risk of life-changing disability due to heart failure, and can even cost lives.”

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Meanwhile, every national cancer target was missed in August and 75,000 people waited more than four weeks to find out if they had cancer following an urgent GP referral. Minesh Patel, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, warned delays were causing anxiety.

He said: “Far too many people are facing entirely avoidable delays for cancer tests and treatment in England. This ongoing issue has sadly become the norm – it’s just not good enough.”

NHS data also showed more than 12,000 patients remained in hospital despite being medically fit to go home in September, amid fears delayed discharges will cause chaos again this winter.

However, the NHS hit a target to introduce 10,000 more virtual ward spaces which allow patients to be monitored at home. Almost a quarter of a million people have been treated on virtual wards to date.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said the programme was world-leading and “a huge leap forward in the way the NHS treats patients enabling them to receive hospital-level care in their own home”.

He added: “We know that industrial action is also continuing to pile pressure on services and impact capacity adding a lot of pressure to hospitals before winter, coming on top of high levels of demand with last month seeing more 999 ambulance calls than any month this year as well as the busiest September ever for A&E attendances, up almost eight percent on the same month last year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We have delivered on our promise to roll out 10,000 hospital-at-home places by winter – a key target in our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan and a testament to the hard work of NHS staff.

“These ‘hospitals at home’ will speed up recovery times for patients and help cut waiting lists.”

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